There is no chance for a snappy title or a fun twist to events this time. For the sake of sensitivity, no images have been used, and sincere apologies in advance for the subject which may make readers uncomfortable.
While the articles on this blog are designed to try and entertain and engage the reader, sometimes the situation is just too grave and consternation replaces the lighter humour that is often injected in these posts. This post seeks to address recent developments in Syria in the form of chemical attacks which have reportedly killed hundreds – even up to a count of 1,300 by some sources. Loss of life is always regrettable and should always be avoided unless absolutely necessary; there does not seem to ever be a reason for murder on such a scale. A chemical attack such as this is amongst the worst kind of attacks imaginable – it is indiscriminate and kills men, women, and children, it was used with civilians as the target, and it spreads fear and terror in its wake. There is no excuse for such measures and all peoples should rightfully condemn such brutality and malice.
One of the big questions is what the international response will be. The BBC lists some of the world media reaction to these recent Syrian events, and the consensus seems to be that, though peacekeeping intervention and diplomatic influence should be used, Syria is unimportant to Europe or the United States. If this were the case, it really would be the case that limited warfare (abhorred though it is) truly has been breached with the use of unconventional warfare. There certainly can be no occasion for the international community to turn a blind eye – or use empty words and rattle empty scabbards feebly – because of idleness or disinterest. In a global world where countries and people share the same interests, democratic values and liberty should be defended as a common cause. No peoples such live in fear of their government, or exist under the arbitrary rule of dictators and armed forces. In this vein, there should certainly be no excuse to ignore atrocities which can safely be considered crimes against humanity.
An unpopular point that must be mentioned – and hopefully the reader will consider the point in full before reacting. There is little (or no) doubt that a terrible attack has been committed, and that there is no plausible reason for such a disaster. Such an attack can be intended only to cause terror and take life indiscriminately: it is an attack founded not upon eliminating the military capacity of a combatant force, but upon hate. Hate begets hate; violence begets violence. There are many more lives to be lost – some of which will be in direct consequence to the terrible loss of life on the 20th August.
Who gains from such an atrocity though? This article states that various parties could potentially gain from such a cruel, base, and calculating attack. The Syrian government has been recorded as having the ability, and even the aggression, to effectively deploy chemical weapons against its civilian populace. It does appear the most likely of theories if the chemical attack is confirmed (as it is highly likely to be). The use of chemical weapons by a current government seems to be political suicide, however. Even if the use of chemical weapons would prove successful in curbing (or culling) dissent, the international community surely could not withstand such blatant atrocities. Such a government would surely have triggered a countdown to its own collapse and its leading members’ arrest. Still, this does take for granted that the government relied on rational choices, and the current situation suggests that careful compromise and moderation has not been the order of the day. However, for the sake of considering all possibilities, it is still feasible (though less likely) that the rebel faction triggered the chemical attack themselves. They would certainly have more to gain from the events than the government. As has been highlighted: “Why would the Assad government, which has recently been retaking ground from the rebels, carry out a chemical attack while UN weapons inspectors are in the country?” The rebels would surely do well from gaining further international support for their cause if an unpopular Syrian government was blamed for an atrocity, especially if the rebel cause is not proceeding smoothly at the time of writing. It is feasible, if unlikely, but readers should always consider alternatives, however horrible and terrifying.
Again, hate begets hate. The Syrian conflict may linger for months, even years, and gain in intensity. In the meantime, there is a civilian populace that lives in the shadow of terror and murder, where children are raised in an environment of danger and death. The international community must take action to ensure that the lives of every person are safe from those who have not just caused such misery and pain through conventional means, but unconventional, too. For the sake of preserving lives, and arresting those who would commit crimes against humanity, I hope that UN inspection teams to detect and discern those responsible, and that the detainment and trial of such criminals is swift. Hopefully, peacekeeping forces will soon be considered to protect the lives of civilians and bring all parties to the diplomatic table to end the bloodshed.