The civil war in Syria is definitely one of the most horrifying conflict of the decade: the war that has raged since 2011 has taken of a death toll crossed the 200,000 mark and 5 million Syrians have fled the country. What began as a civil war instigated by the Arab Spring, quickly became a proxy war for regional and global rivals and threatens to morph into a global conflict.
But more importantly, this war will notoriously be remembered for the birth of the ISIS rampage, a fact which has worked in Assad’s favor: In comparison to the atrocities of ISIS, Assad, a dictator who inherited his power from his father and refused to hold free elections, suddenly looked like a victim.
Throughout the war, Assad and Tehran have used the “fight against ISIS” as the narrative that successfully empowers them with a “license to kill” anyone who isn’t pro-Assad – and the world has blindly accepted this.
ISIS is Assad’s License To Kill
Unfortunately for the millions of Syrian rebels who aren’t affiliated with ISIS or any other terrorist group, most of the world accepted this benevolent portrayal of Assad while they were battered endlessly by the Syrian army, Hezbollah militias, Iranian “advisers” and now, Moscow’s best. The feverish quest to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth overcame and efforts to force Assad to earn his power through elections regardless of the fact that had Assad not tried to quell the protests by his people for reform and free elections, the war may never have gained impetus and ISIS might never have existed. This same quest helped Tehran to rebrand itself from a state which supports terror to a state which fights against terror.
This doesn’t mean that these new “supporters” of Assad are “bad” people: they are normal people who are rightly terrified by ISIS. Comparing searches of ISIS to Assad in google trends since 2014 shows that the interest in ISIS is about 43 times more than the interest in Assad. This makes sense and, in a way, explains why people support Assad in the civil war: ISIS is simply scarier.
Assad’s supporters and ISIS’s enemies conveniently blame “terrorism”, a word which is just a rallying call to go to war, and the legitimate plight of the Syrian people who want to be able to choose their own leader was, just as conveniently, forgotten. Furthermore, the hundreds of thousands of casualties by Assad’s army and his supporters (mainly Hezbollah and Tehran) and the millions of Syrian refugees were attributed to the “terrorists” although there is growing evidence that most of the casualties were killed by Assad’s army and most of the refugees fled from Assad’s army.
Disturbing Facts and Figures
The facts regarding the identity of the casualties and the refugees (who killed them and who are they fleeing from respectively?) is murky at best: both sides claim to be victims and blame the other. Independent sources are hard to come by and the numbers are so confusing that many simply give up and go with their gut against ISIS…and for Assad.
But what if sources such as the Syrian Network for Human Rights are correct and that 95% of the casualties were killed by Assad’s regime? What if the majority of Syrian refugees are really fleeing Assad? What if the number of atrocities carried out by the regime really do eclipse those of ISIS? What if ISIS was actually a blessing in disguise for Assad (and for Tehran) by giving him the legitimacy he lacked amongst his own people? Is eradicating ISIS really worth the atrocities carried out by Assad and his cronies?
Since Moscow entered the fray, for the purported goal of wiping ISIS out, it has been accused of targeting and killing non-ISIS rebels and civilians. Moscow denies and the world keeps on looking away. Tehran pontificates on the need for Europe to take care of the Syrian refugees while it continues to unwaveringly support Assad to create the reason why they are fleeing Syria. Once again, the world seems content to accept Assad and Tehran at face-value in the all-encompassing hope of destroying ISIS.
The Ironic/Iranic Road to Democracy
President Hassan Rouhani made a big point of stating that not only is Iran a democracy but that Iran will “help bring about democracy in Syria“. Iran’s FM Javad Zarif echoed this sentiment by claiming that Syria’s fate should be “determined at the polls and not by weapons“. So, how is Iran “helping to bring democracy” to Syria and allow the Syrians to choose their leaders “at the polls”? By blindly supporting Assad with money, “advisers” and weapons, by allowing Qods chief Qassem Suleimani to call the shots in Syria and by branding any resistance to his regime as terrorism.
It’s time for the world to take a closer look at who really is responsible for this war and to not accept narratives that are mistakenly supported out of fears of ISIS. It’s time to make Assad and Tehran accountable for prolonging this war and for the suffering and deaths of hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of refugees whose lives could have been normal had Assad accepted to hold elections.
Now, Assad is finally offering the possibility for elections but at “only if terrorists are defeated first“, meaning that by the time he will hold the elections, all forms opposition to his regime will either be dead or outside of Syria. The bitter irony here is that Assad may actually win his power democratically at the expense of the hundreds of thousands he killed, the millions of refugees who fled his forces and the gullible world who bought the “Assad vs. ISIS” narrative hook, line and sinker.