x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Syria's warring parties need to stop fuelling the fire

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that, in the process, he does not become a monster," said Nietzsche. In Syria today, there are monsters on both sides.

A young niece of mine got married a few days ago. It should have been a happy family occasion, with a multitude of relatives and friends joining her parents to celebrate with music, dancing and joy.

But it was far from that: the couple had a rushed ceremony and a pretence at a party, for my niece lives in Syria's troubled city of Aleppo.

I am not sure why she and her new husband decided to go ahead with the wedding. Perhaps part of the reasoning was that their world has been turned upside down since war arrived in Aleppo 11 months ago and that they were not prepared to put their lives on hold any longer.

The heady excitement of early 2011, when the so-called Arab Spring burst unexpectedly in the region has long since been replaced by deprivation, destruction and despair.

My niece has, in many ways, been fortunate. None of her close family have been killed or wounded; they still have their own homes; they have managed to cope with the lack of essential services; and they survived an early run-in with gangsters who held a brother-in-law to ransom.

Since the Syrian army has moved into their neighbourhood in strength, there has been little fighting nearby. But the young children of the family have long been tired of the game of counting the number of explosions they can hear.

Now the war is drawing closer, once again. After the army successfully drove rebels out of the town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, last week, there is talk of a new offensive in Aleppo. The new offensive is expected to concentrate first on rebel-held areas in the surrounding countryside before moving into the city. If the battles for Qusayr and many other towns and cities are any guide, this city awaits more death and destruction.

It is little wonder that my niece and her betrothed wanted to tie the knot while they could.

Syria is one of the world's greatest humanitarian tragedy since the Second World War. Over 80,000 people have been killed. The United Nations estimates that as many as 6.8 million people now need humanitarian assistance, compared to a mere million in April last year. That number may rise to 10 million by the end of this year if the conflict continues.

Around 4.25 million people have been internally displaced - driven from their homes to safer areas - with over 1.6 million more now living as refugees, mainly in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. To tackle that, the UN has announced its largest ever emergency appeal for relief funds, a huge $5 billion (Dh18.3 billion), nearly four times larger than the appeal after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Meanwhile, the global community seems impotent - or deliberately unwilling - to bring the conflict to an end. Iran and Hizbollah, eager to preserve their ally, Bashar Al Assad, in power, are directly engaged in the conflict, willing accomplices in his brutality as he benefits from the diplomatic cover and arms supplies provided by Russia.

On the other side, those whose original involvement in the opposition was driven by their desire for freedom and basic human rights are increasingly sidelined by those who advocate an equally brutal sectarian regime that would destroy the culture of tolerance that has characterised this part of the region for 2,000 years.

In the absence of coherent leadership among the regime's opponents, the siren voices of populist preachers and of fundamentalist fanatics joined the chorus. These fanatics care nothing for the well-being of the Syrian people; they instead seek to impose their own murderous solution, on those of their own faith and on others.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that, in the process, he does not become a monster." In Syria today, there are monsters on both sides.

In a recent article, Edward Dark, the pseudonym of an Aleppo resident, wrote: "Whatever is left of Syria at the end will be carved out between the wolves and vultures that fought over its bleeding and dying corpse, leaving us, the Syrian people, to pick up the shattered pieces of our nation and our futures."

Meanwhile, the misery and the tragedy continue. Those who are contributing to it, both inside and outside Syria, should hang their heads in shame.


Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE's history and culture