5 Mar 2012

Syria's inconvenient truth

Now we see it. The West, or shall we call it, “the international community”, is paralysed in the face of one of the most barbaric and systematic ethnic cleanings of the 21st Century. We are talking Syria, although it has uncanny similarities with Sri Lanka.

Once upon a time we were talking Sierra Leone – a very successful small-scale intervention in which citizens were saved and democracy restored – but that was in the last century.

Once we talked Kosovo – Western intervention without UN sanction.  Afghanistan followed and Iraq too, dogged by a desperate Anglo-American-led bid to get the United Nations to legitimise it. And finally we hit Libya, so hard we rained enough bombs to help bring about regime change that was not sanctioned at the United Nations. And then, when it came to Syria, we hit the brick wall of a Sino-Russian veto against just one more intervention that had already been cast in “regime change” terms.

Read more: Exclusive – Syrian doctors ‘torturing’ patients

Add to this the tinderbox that is the Middle East and the International Community dare not light even one match. In any case as President Obama reminded us last night,  the US wouldn’t rule out using force against Iran to stop it constructing a nuclear bomb.

Saudi Arabia says it wants to arm the Syrian rebels. Some think they already have. Our own Foreign Office says there is not much of a coherent unified opposition to “support”. For the first time that I can remember, Syria’s hard line ruling Baath Party is being described as Shia. Technically they are, but deeply secular. Yet the very fact that these Shia roots exist, and that Shia Iran is now Syria’s closest ally, scares the daylights out of the Saudis.

So we now have a picture of the “West” being against Iran, and Syria; whilst supporting Israel and the Saudis. You have the Israelis wanting to bomb Iran to stop any further nuclear development, and the US seeking the same goal, if not yet the same means. You have Russia and China supporting the Syrian regime but becoming increasingly sensitive about what that is doing to their prestige.

Meanwhile no one is talking to anyone, beyond the people they always talk to. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is in Washington again today talking to Mr Obama.

We are caught in what is inescapably a Sunni Shia war into which the West is stumbling. But that stumbling is a desperate shoe shuffle designed never to have to fire a shot in anger.

Read more: The Horror of Homs

So in the second decade of the 21st century we have devised the mechanisms for transmitting crude evidence of atrocity. Thanks to courage and the mobile phone, the world’s citizenry is better informed about the bloodletting in Syria than during any massacre at any time in history.

This is Sri Lanka all over again, except that this time we don’t have to wait until the massacres are over, we can see them as they happen. We citizens know as much as those in power. That’s new. It is a very inconvenient truth, because what it describes is an international system so abused by its members that it can no longer function in a most desperate hour of need. So what’s to be done?

You can follow Jon Snow on Twitter @jonsnowC4

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15 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    The West is NOT “stumbling” into anything. This makes it sound like somebody with good intentions who can’t help himself. It’s utter tosh.

    Haven’t we heard this ridiculous propagandist line before in civil wars? In Laos, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Yemen, Oman, Lebanon, Nigeria, Angola, South Africa, Rwanda, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Granada, Panama……and going much further back Russia and Spain and even in Italy’s undeclared civil war of thirty years? And this is only a small list.

    The fact is the West is engaged in The Great Game, a murderous play with lives and national identities. It never stops. The two prime rogue nations are the USA and Britain, that ugly Anglo Saxon combination of establishment murderers and corporate thieves.

    You got that part of the issue badly wrong. But at least you have started to identify the sectarian element in it. You might also look much more closely at Western media propaganda and how it is manufactured to suit – Murdoch and Fox News anyone?

    Amongst others, Noam Chomsky long ago exposed this evil for what it is.

  2. Mudplugger says:

    The United Nations is paralysed by its Cold War structure of vetoes, inevitable applied when any of the various ‘proxy wars’ are in play.
    The obvious course would be to do away with the veto power of all those top-table sitters.
    Guess what happens next ?
    UN Resolutions against Israel would immediately pass without veto, and then where would we be ?

    The UN would be compelled into action against the world’s most protected state, a state which has already ignored more UN resolutions than any other and which continues to inflict abuses without sanction on the previous legal residents of the land it had occupied and dominated with the ‘blessing’ of that veto-bound UN.
    And, of course, Israel has held nuclear weapons (courtesy of its main veto-applying agent) for decades and would not shy away from using them.

    So the choice is stark – acknowledge the UN’s inability to resolve the abuses in Syria or do something about it. Trouble is, the ‘do something about it’ option would result in local Armageddon.
    And also a lot of cash would stop flowing to political parties in the USA and UK – and, as a sad comment on our leaders, that probably worries them more.

  3. Saltaire Sam says:

    Religion is at the heart of so many of these conflicts. Yet the church’s priority is to oppose same-sex couples getting married.

    More proof there is no god – if there were, (s)he would surely have flung down millions of thunderbolts by now.

  4. e says:

    Indeed. Little wonder the Blair’s of this world suggest getting into religion….. The time to ask what mitigated hostility between Sunni and Shia was prior to hitting Iraq. [Which is not say this was a legitimate move]

    On the ground here in Britain our inconvenient truth is that in becoming successful citizens of a globalised economy we’ve risked our political souls for cheap material goodies.

    It’s not, as some would have it, a simply a case of being open to the benefits of “free trade”.

  5. Meg Howarth says:

    ‘It is a very inconvenient truth, because what it describes is an international system so abused by its members that it can no longer function in a most desperate hour of need’ –

    UN officials like UN Human Rights’ rep Navi Pillay on C4 news tonight mouthing the same old platitudes only serve to underline your point.

    So what’s to be done, indeed? Certainly time for the ineffectual UN to be wrapped up. How to do that and does the world need a replacement is what we all need to give our minds to.

  6. Sam Martins says:

    I’m sure John was singing Syria’s praises a couple of years ago when he was rubbing shoulders with Syrian regime figures during a Gaza aid ‘charity’ event. I tried to find that particular blog post, but couldn’t. It has been interesting to see the left wing cope with the Arab spring especially in Syria. Their anti-Israel obsession always meant that Syria got tacit support from the left because it was anti-Israel/US/west and therefore a friend of the left.

    Still no ‘stop the war coalition’ marches on the streets of London though – unlike when Israel merely sneezes and the rabble come out of the woodwork. I wonder where the “we’re all Hezbollah” left wing group have disappeared to.

    I see Jon Snow has referred to the Israel lobby as ‘insidious’ on tonight’s show. Still exposing his lack of journalistic integrity as usual.

    Lots of left wingers with egg on their faces vis-a-vis the Arab spring. Also interesting to note that all C4 & BBC news reports clearly state all clips are “unverified” – yet there was no such statements made with the plethora of palestinian propaganda clips from 2009 or Hezbollah propaganda of 2006. Everything anti-Israel was reported as fact.

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      Any valid point you may have is spoilt by your own barely-disguised visceral hatred of the ‘left’ and anyone who criticises Israel. Hardly a recipe for progress. Recommend Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus to see the consequences of such bone-headedness.

    2. ObjectiveHistory says:

      Love the completely made up nature of this post, shows the truth of many of Israels most ardent supporters.

  7. Graham Jones says:

    Hi Jon

    The UK radio/TV audience should remember that “BBC English” WAS the unchallengeable source of “correct pronunciation”.

    Tonight, 5 March, BBC NEWS (6pm and later) have lost the plot COMPLETELY – anchor and item-reporter called the Chelsea owner “Abram-OH-vich”.

    It seemed deliberately erroneous – a usual provincial, performance that has never been worse – at best, on the surface, parochial.

    If it was anything else, BBC News must finally be forced to “come out” as it is – government-run, crass, flagrant, propagandist, shoddy – so that the public can review the licence fee!

    By dint of his surname, Abramovich is of Jewish extraction, so the base of his sur-name (=over-name, i.e. family name) is “Abraham” – so AB-ram-ovich.

    “ovich” means “son of” – in many European/Asian cultures, a father/locality (viz. “de/von/da/di” with French/German/Spanish/Italian &c. – Gaulle, Trippenhoff, Gama/Vinci &c) never mind Anglo-Saxon “Mac/Mc” (Irish/Scottish) and derivatives.

    C4 News is independent/enlightening/impartial UK terrestrial – but I always watch Al Jazeera/Sky/Russia Today for a much better, balanced view of what is really going down – viva CNN Baghdad, Kuwait War!

  8. Sandra says:

    If you see the civilians coming out from Holms, it is Sri Lanka written all over Syria.

    Mullivaikkal, benghazi, holms….

    Same repressible regimes are bailing out the brutal regimes killing their own people on racial lines and calling ‘armed thugs’.

  9. Gamini says:

    This is a tabloid attempt at disecting the many issues for Syria and the region- one might say much like the channel 4 perspective on Sri Lanka it simply doesnt understand the issues or whats happening. I expect to see a cut/paste documentary from persepcetive of solely of Syrian protesteres and their within the next month- typical MO for Channel 4.

  10. Andy Walpole says:

    “So in the second decade of the 21st century we have devised the mechanisms for transmitting crude evidence of atrocity. Thanks to courage and the mobile phone, the world’s citizenry is better informed about the bloodletting in Syria than during any massacre at any time in history.”

    What annoys me is that last year most commentators were repeatedly saying there can be no repeat of the ’82 Hama massacre because the advent of new hardware and software – namely mobile phones and YouTube – would mean that the documentation would be overwhelmingly damning.

    Well there are hundreds if not thousands of videos on YouTube clearly demonstrating Syrian government atrocities against their own people. The evidence of the continuous and deliberate random shelling of civilian areas and the torture and execution of the opposition is overwhelming.

    Many in the media seriously believed that new technology meant a new paradigm in popular politics; but in actual fact, despite the “information super highway”, the rule of protest, revolution and dictatorship in the 21st century is the same as the 20th: political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.

  11. adrian clarke says:

    It is correct to say that religion and religious extremism is the cause of most of the disputes worldwide.It used to be expansionism by the major countries,but expanding ones borders is now an almost impossible undertaking.
    Unfortunately,the Zealots in the countries where civil war is taking place,so brainwash their believers that nothing must stand in the way of their religion ruling the entire country at the expense of alternative religions.It is always the religion that has the backing of the army that holds the upper hand,and in maintaining their power atrocities frequently take place.
    Who are we of the West to tell another country how to behave?Who are we to intervene with any legitimacy?We have no God given right,if we even believe in God. We have probably armed the perpetrators,and probably trade with them.Our only legal redress is to stop arming,stop trading and let them get on with it.
    We are becoming a secular society and would do well to curb any religious extremism in this country before Enoch’s words become reality

  12. Tanya Spooner says:

    I agree with almost all of Adrian’s post. I personally believe that the increase in wars of all kinds is partly a result of the enormous arms industry, and its significance to the economies of the countries in which it resides. The leaders of the arms industry know very well how to whip up fear of attack, influencing both public opinion and political will, and the wealthy in these countries have a vested interest in the arms industry’s prevailing success. The fact that we are aware of the corruption in ALL governments makes no difference to its continuance, and we all now know that nothing is as powerful as money in the modern world.

  13. Shubhda Chaudhary says:

    When Arab Spring had initially started, intelligently drifitng out attention from the Israel/Palestine issue which had become synonym of Middle East, the death of Bouzazi in Tunisia promised a revolution. With 25th January, as 90,000 egyptians assembled at Tahrir Square, it seemed perfect, flawless. In other countries like Morocco, Bahrain, Oman- the social engineering was able to change the impact of the uprisings. But with Libya, foreign intervention, NATO bombing and arming of rebels started. The revolution, as Fred Halliday says, was being exported. Col. Gadaffi was killed, and today Libya fights between Benghazi and Tripoli. In Syria, SNC and FSA are not following analogy. What I find is the inconvenient truth is the ‘failure of embracing democracy’. The mad rush towards it, as if, its the answer to every injustice. Sadly, democracy is nothing but the dictatorship of the government. The growth of Muslim Brotherhood in governments or introduction of constitutional monarcy does not scare me, as does the political vacuum in democracy, the lack of a selfless world government and use of propaganda in causing deaths of innocent civilians. Whom do you blame then?

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