ISIS, IS, Daaesh- whatever they want to call themselves, the Islamic State has certainly caught everyone’s attention. It’s a little coincidental that despite all their murdering and pillaging over the past few months, the West decides to intervene only when its own citizens are beheaded, isn’t it? Well, cynicism aside, the main question now is, are we doing the right thing?
The resounding answer, from the majority of Western public opinion and also from that of the Syrian people we hear, is “no”. We don’t want to get caught up in yet another messy Middle-Eastern war, we don’t want unforeseen consequences or the responsibility of creating something perhaps even worse. They don’t want Western intervention or a three way war involving Assad, the rebels and the Allies. Or so we think.
If we are to believe the mainstream media, who have mostly spoken to Syrians living in Damascus or other non-IS held towns, the Syrians are totally against the current US-led air strikes. There is a general consensus that in carrying out air strikes, the West is ignoring the crimes of Assad and his forces, and in some cases even briefing them before they strike. I refer to my previous article- do we really hold the moral ground? Are we now seriously dealing with a man who not long ago used chemical weapons against innocent civilians? But yes, it would seem that our enemy’s enemy is our friend, no matter how inconvenient.
However, not all Syrians are against IS, and particularly not those living under their reign of terror. I spoke to someone in Raqqa this weekend, where IS has its headquarters. He is a member of the campaign “Raqqa is being slaughtered silently”- a group on Facebook run by underground activists who are trying to show the world the reality of living under IS- crucifixions, beheadings, and general terror. I wanted to know what he though of the air strikes. Abu Abdellah (his name has been changed to protect his identity) said that at first, he was against the air strikes, but now that he sees that they do not target civilians, he “welcomes them”. I asked if this was just his opinion, or whether this was a reflection of the general mood in Raqqa. He replied that like him, a lot of people changed their minds about their air strikes “once they saw that they were only targeting Daaesh”. He told me that IS soldiers are now “afraid”, and that air strikes combined with support for the FSA and civil society are what is needed to crush IS, if the air strikes can properly target IS leaders for maximum effect. I raised the question that if IS is defeated, who would fill the void in Raqqa? Would another Islamist group such as Al-Nusra take power, or is the FSA really strong enough, or even present, to fill the vacuum? Abu Abdellah was adamant: “We will never again accept Al-Aqaeda, it must be the Free Army” he said.
He described the “terrible” conditions of living under IS in Raqqa- that the people were treated “like slaves”. The IS ‘justice system’ has been widely reported on- lashings on a cross for smoking in public, stoning to death for adultery, hands of thieves are cut off, a 14 year old boy was hung on a cross in scorching heat for not having fasted one day in Ramadan….We can’t do nothing.
That being said, however, Syrians in other cities are extremely suspicious of the US’ motivations. Air strikes have also targeted the Al Nusra front, despite the action said to be purely targeting IS. There is a fear that these air strikes will help Assad regain territory, and that the US has in fact given up on the overthrow of Assad, instead communicating with him the time and location and upcoming strikes. Such actions, if true, would be yet another nail in the coffin for the Western reputation in the Middle East. If we are to be seen as truly helping the people rid themselves of such a brutal regime, it must be for that purpose alone that we intervene, and not to fulfil several other subversive interests we might have. Otherwise, the backlash will be merciless, and droves of young disillusioned people with an already anti-Western mentality will join the ranks of IS and provide the next generation of terrorists.