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Talal Alyan Headshot

Shell Shocked and Rouged: Syria Is Not a Disposable Bride

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It took the prospect of a Western response to chemical massacre to provoke notice of Syria. And when the gates opened, it seemed as though everyone had brushed the dust off their old slogan from the Iraq war and recycled them for Syria.

"Hands off Syria" is the mantra. But one has to wonder where these voices where when the imprints of Russian or Iranian or Hezbollah intervention scarred the Syrian landscape, and sheltered the Assad dynasty from diplomatic or military threat. If the concern is Syrian innocent life, where were these voices, and their easy slogans, when he essentially threw over a million Syrian children into exile, robbed them of family and childhood and dignity.

The sudden rush to become active in the discourse about Syria has revealed ugly elements of the anti-interventionist movement; it has once again proven their tendency to dictate to peoples from other countries what is in their best interests as though Syrians are not familiar with geopolitical choreography or lack the intellect to grasp it. All the while, these same groups protest against their own governments for doing the same.

It has also showcased how little many of these outspoken group know of Syria.

"This opposition is not interested in creating a democracy," declares an article on the Green Shadow Cabinet, a group headed by Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, the presidential nominees of the Green Party in the last election.

These are the circles that pride themselves on supporting human rights and indigenous struggles? These same groups that now casually create false equivalence between tyrants and those who fight them, demanding an easy symmetry of the world that does not exist.

No, this is not the position of persons who oppose intervention out of concern for Syrians, they are the perspectives of those who cannot grasp a conflict when it steers outside of their comfortable "anything endorsed by the West is evil" worldview. It is a banal point to state that Western intentions and motives might be driven by self-interest. However, it is a secondary thought to those who face the brutality of Assad's regime. When you are facing slaughter, your first consideration is survival, not what your survival might entail regarding Western intention. But it is this essential component that seems absent from many conversations.

Syria is not a siren song. It cannot only be regarded through the hypothetical consequences of getting involved. Or the geopolitical currents at work.

In other corners, it is worse. The unspeakable propaganda spewed by those who cast doubt on the chemical massacre in the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. What could be more disgusting than those who impugned the anguish of Syrians who discovered that morning that their loved ones had turned pale blue and passed while sleeping. And yet it is not an uncommon refrain. It is evoked as a serious counterpoint to criticism of Assad or pleas for action.

Intervention arouses memory of Iraq. But the case for, or against it, cannot be made by drawing parallels. It does not always mean the same thing. A no-fly zone does not mean troops on the ground. Offering military aid is not the same as bombing. How can one expect these distinctions to be made when groups simplify everything using crude slogans like "hands off Syria", and what does being against intervention even mean when it already exists, often tilting in favor of a despot. Iraq still stands as a monument of how disastrous intervention can be, the sheer horror it can produce. But what a shame it would be for its legacy to become an excuse to stand against helping those who desperately need help.

There are worthwhile arguments against bombardment and large-scale direct intervention, often best articulated by Syrian activists themselves. But the opportunists who use Syria, removed from its context and complexities, to try to garner support for anti-war movements or leftist parties are not doing Syrians any favors. In the process of forging a correlation between Iraq and Syria, their own understandings about Syria are drained of any humanity or nuance.

Syria is not a disposable bride; it is not a prop to be married to larger ideological struggle. It is not a political mistress with whom one can vacation to these miserable battlefields for liberation and make selective observations. There are over 100,000 people dead. Perhaps an aerial bombing campaign will only make things worse. But what is certain is that those who continue to fixate on how Syria fits into their preexisting worldview, and not on Syria itself, are deluding themselves if they think they are protesting to save Syria.