By Jeremy Salt
The French bombing of Islamic extremists and terrorists in Mali contrasts nicely with France’s support for Islamic extremists/terrorists in Syria. Francois Hollande says Mali had to be stopped from becoming an Islamic terrorist base on ‘Europe’s doorstep.’ Mali is 3237 kms from France and Syria is 3322 kms from France, so the doorstep difference is 85 kms. Yet, while blocking ‘Islamic terrorism’ in Mali, France is promoting it in Syria through its support for the Islamist groups fighting to bring down the secular government of Bashar al Assad. In the past two weeks alone they have fired rockets at Aleppo University, killing nearly 90 students on the first day of their semester examinations, and set off bombs in towns across north and central Syria, including Salamiyya, killing more than 40 people. The population of Salamiyya is largely Ismaili, heterodox Muslims who will have no place in the Islamic emirate the armed groups want to set up. But let us not call the men who do this terrorists. According to the British newspapers, they are rebels whom the Syrian government simply chooses to call ‘terrorists.’
About the same time Aleppo university was being bombed, three men were arrested in England on suspicion of the ‘commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism’ in Syria. What led ultimately to their arrests was the seizure of a British photographer in Syria by a takfiri group that included Bangladeshis, Chechens, Pakistanis and at least one Briton, a doctor taking time off from his job with the National Health Service to wage jihad in Syria. If the British government was alarmed it was not because of the Syrians being killed but because of the threat to Britain itself from these home-grown takfiris. Good heavens, they might come home and do there what they are doing in Syria, and that can’t be allowed.
Like France the British attitude to terrorism is massively hypocritical. Hollande, Fabius, Cameron and Hague express their outrage at crimes committed by the Syrian government or army while remaining silent in the face of atrocities being committed every day of the week by the armed groups. When British hostages are killed in Algeria it is ‘cold blooded murder’, according to William Hague: 90 students are butchered in Aleppo and he has nothing to say.
The media plays its part by snapping up the claim that actually it was the Syrian government that organized the bombing of its own university and within a day the story is forgotten anyway. The Syrian army had it right when it issued a statement saying the university was targeted as an act of revenge against the people of Aleppo for refusing to support the armed groups. We know this is true because even the armed groups have admitted it. Suburb by suburb they are now being cleared out of Aleppo, Damascus and other cities. All they can do now is bomb, snipe and massacre.
The military council set up to coordinate the activities of the armed groups exists only in name. There is no coordination at the political or armed level. The armed groups are following their own leaders. They reject the authority of the new Doha council. This matters not at all because this council has quickly proved to be as useless as the Syrian National Council set up in Istanbul. It has no support on the ground and the idea that somehow it can turn itself into an alternative government is laughable. Events in North Africa are bound to affect how the governments who have sponsored these groups read the situation in Syria. Noone knows how much money Doha and Saudi Arabia have poured into this anti-Alawi, anti-Iran and anti-Shia operation but much of it has ended up in European bank accounts. Many of the figures bribed to betray the government in Damascus took the money and took off, never to be seen again.
Referring to Bashar al Assad and his government, Hague says ‘their failed leadership is now the prime cause of the instability and crisis in Syria’. In fact, the prime cause of the death and devastation in Syria is the intervention by William Hague and his friends. Hague even had the gall to say that the situation in North Africa would have been much worse had not Britain, France and the US intervened in Libya, when the exact opposite is true. Libya is connected to Mali and Mali to Algeria as surely as the thigh bone is connected to the hip. Behind the ponderous Churchillian rhetoric and the gravelly voice, Mr. Hague comes across as a very silly man.
While fighting Islamic ‘extremism’ or ‘terrorism’ in Mali, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan, the US, the UK, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been fuelling it in Syria. They will never admit it but the only barrier against Syria being turned into a Taliban-style state in the heart of the Middle East is the government they are trying to destroy. Transition to a democratic order is not even remotely on the cards as long as the western governments, the gulf states and Turkey continue to back the armed groups – the ‘terrorists’ as they don’t like to call them.
The French are now speaking of the reconquest of Mali. Britain and the US are slowly joining in. What is at stake is not just the rise of an Islamic ‘terrorist’ state in North Africa but Mali’s phenomenal mineral wealth, which takes us back to Libya and why it was attacked. We still have to surmise. Was it for oil, was it to prevent Qaddafi from taking Africa out of the hands of the IMF, was it to lay hands on the 137 tons of gold bullion stored somewhere in Tripoli, present whereabouts unknown, or was it a combination of all these reasons? What we can say is that the ‘dictator’ was simply the way in. The recent actions of these governments across the Muslim world, often, unfortunately, with the collaboration of so-called Muslim governments, duplicate 19th century imperialism at the high water mark.
As for Syria, the International Crisis Committee (IRC) has described the humanitarian crisis created as the result of outside intervention through the sponsorship of armed groups as ‘staggering’. More than 600,000 Syrians have fled into surrounding countries, and another two million have been internally displaced. Palestine 1948 and 1967 and Iraq 2003 have been replicated. Rape and sexual violence inside Syria is ‘horrific’, says the IRC. Frustrated at what they say is a lack of support from outside, the armed groups are fighting among themselves and, most recently, fighting with the Kurds for control of territory close to the Syrian border. There is widespread looting of public and private property, including factories, and profiteering from the sale of wheat to Turkish middlemen. According to a US State Department intelligence report: ‘Warlords are a reality on the ground now …A failed state is the most likely outcome of the current conditions unless adjustment [is] done.’ People are moving from one ruined city or town to another in attempt to get away from the violence. In Lebanon and Jordan refugee are being flooded out of their tents by winter rains.
So, what do we say in the face of this endless western meddling? Vive la France? God save the Queen? Hail the Chief? How many times will the people of the Middle East have to go through what we have seen in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and what we are now seeing in Syria before they realize that dealing with the west is always the kiss of death. How many countries will have to be destroyed before they wake up? No matter how much they hate a dictator, a government or a system, they have to sort out their problems amongst themselves. Behind the siren slogans of civilization, liberation, democracy or humanitarian concern, what they get is always going to be much worse once the west gets its foot through the door.
– Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.