Haroon Siddiqui, chicken hawk?

Brian Mon, 2012-07-30 00:45

I was shocked and horrified today when I opened my Toronto Star and turned to what I like to read first thing Sunday morning—Haroon Siddiqui's column.

Usually I count on Siddiqui to comment on some situation or controversy and bring some wisdom to bear on it: information you might not have been exposed to, other ways of thinking about it, other people's views and how they fit, etc.

The headline of the column was "NATO misled the world on Syria," so I was encouraged that someone in the mainstream media was going to expose what a bunch of lying scoundrels NATO leaders are. Unfortunately, I found I was reading an out-and-out call for NATO to intervene in Syria, with a diatribe against the Assad regime that could have been gleaned from the Toronto Sun (which I prefer to call the Toronto Stunned).

Now I'm no fan of ruthless dictators, Bashar Assad certainly being one, but I'm not convinced we'll be doing Syria, Syrians, or the world any good by replacing him with Wahhabist extremists. So I was very disappointed to find a writer whose work I've always respected calling for exactly that. Here's my reply to his column:

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Re: NATO misled the world on Syria, Jul 29

Haroon, for many years I've been a fan of your columns in the Star. I've looked forward to opening up my paper on Sunday morning, often turning to your column as my first choice. The reason: though I don't always agree with you, I've been able to count on your writing being careful about the facts, balancing them adeptly, and reaching reasonable conclusions, sometimes even wise ones. When I saw that you were writing how "NATO misled the world on Syria," I looked forward to someone, somewhere in the mainstream media at last pointing out what a bunch of liars our leaders are.

Instead you've shaken my faith in your judgement enormously. This column is so one-sided it might as well be NATO propaganda. To add to the insult, you then come to the outrageous conclusion that the "West" should "intervene."

Please consider the following:

  • You report that the "Assad regime has killed at least 17,000 Syrians in 17 months." This is misleading at best, and shocking for a writer of your calibre. While 17,000 may have died (and maybe more), both sides are killing people at impressive rates. You overlook that the 17,000 include armed rebels killed by the regime, members of the Syrian military or government officials killed by armed opposition rebels or suicide bombers, civilians killed by the Assad regime, and civilians killed by the opposition. Many reports put it that the dead on both "sides" are about equal.

  • "You state that, "As the regime undertakes its do-or-die assault on Aleppo and other population centres, there’s no telling what the eventual death toll will be." You're quite right that there's "no telling," as there's no way to tell. But instead of not telling, you tell it anyway. This just repeats the headlines screaming all over the mainstream media that there are "fears" that a "massacre" will occur. You should recall that in Libya, the "fear" of a massacre in Benghazi was the trigger for an invasion, even though there was very little evidence that one would occur. (At the time, the Libyan military had recaptured many cities, with many deaths, but no "massacres," at least in the way we normally understand the word "massacre," i.e. slaughter of unarmed civilians, or fighters that have surrendered). The Syrian army appears to have regained control of the areas of Damascus that were formerly under "rebel" control, and there was no "massacre" that we're aware of, so why do we think Aleppo will be different? If you have facts that bear on it, you should let us know what they are.

  • You say, "[T]he regime has fanned sectarianism — posing as the saviour of minorities and unleashing Alawite murder squads on Sunni Muslims." Your rhetoric aside, there is good reason to believe that the regime does protect Syrian minorities, though the regime is, of course, dominated by Alawites. Given the almost entirely Sunni make-up of the opposition, and the presence in their forces of Wahhabi extremists; mercenaries from Libya, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia; and other international jihadis, there is also ample reason to fear that, should the Assad regime fall, a new regime will mistreat Syrian non-Sunnis. The slogan oft -used by "pro-democracy" demonstrators—Christians to Lebanon, Alawites to the coffin—indicates a belief in a very special form of democracy.

  • You report that "[T]here’s talk of infiltrating jihadists." I'm sorry Haroon, they're already there.

  • There's really no value in pointing out that the "Syrian pro-democracy movement started off as multi-faith and multi-ethnic," since the Syrian pro-democracy movement has been completely sidelined by the armed rebellion, which is almost entirely Sunni. You use it to fog the situation, not to enlighten.

  • Yes, there are many reports that "Alawite death squads" are working in Syria, but you must know as well that where the FSA occupies an area, revenge killings follow. The only thing we can be certain of is that everyone's lying about it. You'll recall how quickly the mainstream media swallowed, and repeated, the rebel statements that the "Shabiha" had done the killing around Houla. This was despite being given a faked photograph, quickly exposed as such, which should have set off alarm bells. Also, no one seems to have asked who would benefit from the exposure of such brutality. Well, Rainer Hermann of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, who apparently speaks Arabic, having investigated at the scene, concluded that the massacre at Houla was committed by forces aligned with the Free Syrian Army. (I don't read German, so I'm working from translations. See, for example, here and here.)

Your column isn't a heartfelt plea for our governments to stop lying, it's a cry for a Libyan-style Western intervention. Well, that worked out well, didn't it? Libya is now controlled by dozens of militias, often fighting with each other. Torture chambers have sprung up everywhere, black Libyans are still being mistreated, and the "West" pretends that its National Transitional Council fig-leaf is in control of something, anything. Current levels of violence are much worse than at any time in Qaddafi's rule. It's a lot like Somalia now. (This means your reference to "100 rebel forces" emerging is an eerie foreshadow of what Syrians are in for if the opposition takes power.)

In fact, Western "intervention" almost always makes things worse: in Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia and Kosovo, Panama, Viet Nam, and many, many others. Given the role the West is currently playing in Syria, we can expect that to be so no matter how much "intervening" our leaders do. I'm glad you didn't raise the "responsibility to protect" shibboleth, though that's what you're talking about. R2P has, under Western tutelage, entirely morphed into the "right to intervene" for its own purposes. In the case of Syria, the purpose was revealed by Seymour Hersh some years ago—regime change in Syria, and we really don't care what happens afterward as long as the people in charge are subservient to Western power.

It's clear enough in Syria that what we're talking about is which bunch of vicious bastards is going to prevail. From my reading, it's clear enough that the "opposition" may well be the worse of the two. The "Annan Plan" calls for a negotiated solution—that's the only way to stop the killing, not Western intervention. But, as is standard operating procedure for Western-backed groups, the "opposition" rejects any negotiation until Assad is gone (not part of the Annan Plan). In fact, it's always been the armed rebels that have been the barrier to a cease-fire, not the Assad regime. So the violence continues. Again, eerily like Libya.

If we were thinking about the good of the Syrian people, we'd be calling loudly for dispute resolution, not "humanitarian intervention" of the kind you're thinking of. (Unthinkable, I know, because that's the solution advanced by Russia and China.) If our forces intervene, we'll just be participating in the carnage, not protecting anyone.

Brian Robinson