Terrorism is a product above all of Western interventions, argues Lindsey German. Only when they end will there be a chance for peace
The village of Tokkhar, near the northern Syrian town of Manbij, is the latest site of mass killings during an unending war that has gripped Syria for more than five years. The deaths of at least 85 civilians at the hands of US-led airstrikes on 18 and 19 July is a brutal reminder of the intensity of the war currently being waged and the horror experienced by victims caught in its crossfire. For caught in the crossfire the villagers in Tokkhar certainly were: bombed allegedly by mistake because those responsible believed they were targeting Islamic State fighters in the battle for control of Manbij.
The #prayforsyria hashtag, which has been trending for a while on Twitter, expressed widespread horror at the attacks. Many also asked why, so soon after the terrorist attack on Nice, the international response to the loss of life in Syria was so different. While Nice (and before it, the attacks in France, Belgium and Florida) resulted in an outpouring of emotion on social media, the changing of Facebook profiles to identify with the victims and the declarations that we are all with the victims, the sorrow expressed for the victims of US bombs in Syria is muted or in many cases non-existent.
The double standards are not about support for this kind of military action, nor simply ignorance. They lie in the sense imbued in western society that some lives are more important than others. But there can be no distinction between the killing of children leaving a firework display during a French holiday and the deaths of those huddling in a bombarded village in the middle of what is already a killing field.
It is hard for those of us living in the relative peace of western society to imagine what it must be like even to witness airstrikes on a daily basis: the noise, the fear, the constant quandary about where to move to in order to be safe. How many more are in fear of their lives?
Another reason for the differing attitudes to deaths in Iraq or Syria is that the wars in which our governments have been involved for a decade and a half now are for the most part, out of sight and out of mind. There are occasional controversies, momentary outcry over one event or another, “mistaken” attacks on hospitals and schools. But for most of the time no real discussion or explanation, nothing except pictures of people suffering misery which our intervention is supposed to alleviate. Of course it does no such thing, instead contributing to and worsening an ongoing war.
This war is being carried out by many different national powers and non-state actors, not just the Assad government and its various opposition. These include Isis, Russia, western allies, and interventions by various regional powers. All are deadly and must be opposed. The situation is reminiscent of the Thirty Years War in 17th -century Germany, where there were too many with an interest in continuing the war for it to be stopped.
US attacks carried out against Isis since 2014 have done little to achieve its supposed goal. Last year the British parliament voted to join in the bombing, supposedly to add its own unique contribution. In reality Britain’s involvement has been minimal; its Brimstone missile system has not been used, and only four airstrikes were carried out in March for example.
The debate in parliament was regaled in Churchillian terms about the need to stand up to fascism. On the contrary, acts like the Tokkhar bombing this week will lead to a rise in bitterness against western powers, and an increase in terrorism.
It is unlikely that those members of parliament who cheered so loudly in December will have the honesty to admit that they were wrong. There has been no minute of silence for the dead this week. But the truth is that the western intervention is not curing the hell that is the Syrian civil war, it is contributing to it. It hasn’t dealt with Isis, it hasn’t brought peace. Indeed its occupation of Iraq led to the Islamic State’s original formation, with allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey have doing much to sustain it.
Until western rulers realise that this kind of terrorism is the product of war and flourishes within it, and that ending the wars in the Middle East will be the only way to stop it, the people of Syria will continue to be caught in the crossfire.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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