What do Syrians want?

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: When the British House Foreign Affairs Committee convened hearings in September 2015 to reassess the government’s Syria policy, it invited seven witnesses to present evidence. The Committee chair, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, acknowledged “that there have been observations that none of the people who are giving us witness evidence today are actually Syrian.” But this, he explained, was because “the Committee wants to understand all the perspectives in this conflict.”

Syrians, it seems, weren’t the only ones excluded from the hearing — so was irony.

Halfway in, a committee member asked: “What is it that the Syrians want?” The chair, who had ignored public calls to include Syrian witnesses on the panel, seemed intrigued. “What do the Syrians want?” he echoed.

The committee seemed interested in Syrian opinion, but only through the prophylactic medium of a Syrian-free panel. And the composition of the panel ensured that only one type of opinion would be heard.

The star of the proceedings was Patrick Cockburn, the Irish correspondent for the Independent and author of the bestselling The Rise of Islamic State. In articles and public appearances, the controversial journalist has made a case for providing military support not to Syria’s beleaguered opposition but to its murderous regime. Cockburn reiterated the argument before dismissing Syrian civil society as “not really players” and Syrian rebels as mere “jihadi groups” indistinguishable from the Islamic State (per his book, “there is no dividing wall between them and America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies”).

The Syrian voice Cockburn was ventriloquizing might well have been a regime spokesman’s, since few others would present as a lesser evil a state that, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, is responsible for 95 percent of civilian deaths, and which the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has indicted for “the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts.”

But the Conservative-led parliamentary committee wasn’t alone in excluding Syrian voices. Britain’s main antiwar organization, the Stop the War Coalition (StWC—led until recently by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn), has also denied platforms to Syrians (except on one occasion when, three months after the August 2013 chemical massacre, it invited a close ally of Assad to its “antiwar” conference). Indeed, at a recent conference on Syria, chaired by the radical left-wing MP Diane Abbott, organizers called the police to evict a Syrian who tried to speak from the floor (StWC denies that it called the police). StWC later argued that in supporting a no-fly zone, the Syrians had embraced a “pro-war” position, which disqualified them from an “antiwar” platform. However, at the same event, StWC chair Andrew Murray made a case for providing military support to Assad in the fight against ISIS.

If Syrians haven’t been heard, it’s not for lack of trying. There are compelling voices covering the conflict — reporting, analyzing, prescribing. All are ignored. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email