This column was supposed to be about the legalising of discrimination against women who wear headscarves by the European Court of Justice, but the latest developments in Syria, including the scenes of children gassed by chemical weapons, made it imperative to change the subject.
All of a sudden the United States is concerned about human rights in Syria, as President Donald Trump authorised an attack on one of Bashar al-Assad’s airbases for the first time since the uprising against Assad’s rule began about six years ago.
Regardless of whether or not Assad used chemical weapons on his own citizens, it is hypocritical of Trump to pretend that he cares about Syrians while he actively prevents them from seeking refuge in his own country.
It is the usual double standard when it comes to US foreign policy in the Middle East. In almost the same breath he used to talk of Syrian children, Trump heaped praise on Egyptian military dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew Egypt’s first democratically elected president, killed thousands who peacefully protested against the coup and imprisoned thousands of others, including Irish national Ibrahim Halawa.
None of this is to mention the United States’ unconditional support for the Israeli government and its breaches of the international law and the Geneva Convention.
To be fair, however, Trump is not the only one with questions to answer in relation to Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was very quick to criticise the US bombing of Syria, has used the war on Daesh as a pretext to attack all of Assad’s opponents in order to protect a regime that houses Russian military bases on the Mediterranean. Many innocent lives have been lost because of his stance. Putin’s criticism of Trump, therefore, is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black.
There are other pot-and-kettle stories, especially other Arab dictators who officially support Syrians against Assad’s dictatorship while denying their own people democratic rights, though they have not brutalised them in the same way as Assad.
Iran’s unconditional military support to Assad and its involvement in Iraq and Yemen have cost it dearly in terms of its reputation in the Arab World. More importantly, Iran’s position has only worsened the humanitarian situation. It also brought back the ghosts of pre-Islamic times, a troubled past when the Persians ruled parts of the Arab World, and awakened the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide.
With all these major and regional powers failing the Syrian people, it is no wonder that the United Nations has also failed to act to protect the civilian population. The UN has spectacularly failed innocent civilians in other parts of the world, too.
The big question, however, is whether there is actually a will to help the Syrian people. Because if there is a desire to do so, then there are many other steps that can be taken before military intervention, such as an arms embargo. Imposing a no-fly zone over Syria would also reduce civilian casualties significantly.
Perhaps some might disagree with this, but stopping the bloodshed should be prioritised over any talk about trials of those responsible for the bloodshed. This is the time when it makes sense to use the carrot, not the stick. But the stick of economic and diplomatic sanctions needs to be used with those countries that pour more fuel on the Syrian fire.
Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast