SOFIA LORENA IN GAZIANTEP
03/11/2013 – 00:00
Below is a rough English translation made using Google. The Portuguese original can be found here: http://www.publico.pt/j1752077
The world is without a police force at this stage and this is not good, so argues a Syrian dissident who best understands the power structure in Washington. He also says that the U.S. and Europe could have avoided this spiral of madness.
The United States and Europe could have avoided the spiral of madness in Syria back in 2011, declares Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian dissident and human rights activist living in Washington since 2005. For this Syrian, the first to testify in the U.S. Congress about the crimes of the regime that Bashar al-Assad inherited from his father, Hafez, doing nothing is not an option for world leaders. For the truth is: the demons unleashed in Syria will not stay there or be contained in the Middle East forever. They will eventually reach Europe as well.
“Europe will not be able to shield herself from consequences. Let’s set aside the issue of refugees and jihadists for a while, there are already Europeans in Syria who will eventually go back to Europe. So, let’s forget about Syrians, and focus on these recent developments: there are strong indications that members of far-right groups, Greeks and others, are currently in Syria to fight alongside Assad. Eventually these people are bound to return to Europe with an agenda.” So says Ammar during a 2-hour long conversation that took place one October afternoon in Gaziantep.
This southern city of Turkey is one of the many Turkish cities that are becoming a kind of dream or future Syria: Syrian activists living abroad like Ammar, have coming here to train their colleagues who live in Syria, by establishing academic institutions and non-governmental organizations. Meanwhile, Antakya, the province to the west, has become a kind of first-aid center with the town of Reyhanli, near the border, hosting a number of medical centers, schools and hospitals. But Gaziantep is a capital without a government.
It was here that Ammar decided to contribute, in addition to continuing to lobby for American intervention in Syria, an issue that he feels is getting less attention at this stage, and to blog about the Syrian Revolution, among other projects. Now in Gaziantep, Ammar trains activists who then return to Syria determined not to let your country become the hell that others want for her.
The Syrian Revolution began as a peaceful movement back in March 2011. Many misfortunes happened since. Now jihadists from around the world have to come to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in northern parts of the country, while, elsewhere, regime forces are laying siege to rebel areas as food supplies run low and winter approaches. Most doctors have fled the country, humanitarian aid is insufficient, refugees number in the millions and more than 100,000 people are dead, over a thousand of them in a Sarin gas attack that took place in the outskirts of Damascus on August 21.
The August attacks led Barack Obama to threaten military action to punish Assad, a move that later led to an agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal, a process that is currently unfolding. At the same time, Americans and Russians are trying to revive some kind of peace process between the regime and the opposition. A conference known as Geneva II sponsored by the UN will likely take place before the end of the year.
“Al-Qaeda has already determined the borders of her state and is using this time before Geneva II to control more areas. She already has control of Raqqa and is pushing for control of Deir Ezzor,” explains Ammar. Raqqa and Deir Ezzor are cities in northern Syria. “There are many sorts of Islamists, some are moderate, but they all want an Islamic state. The current trend calls for convincing moderate Islamists to work with the regime to fight Al-Qaeda, but this scheme will only be used to further discredit secular opposition members who will be branded as traitors,” he says.
“We are now at a stage where our choices have been reduced to either supporting Assad or not, and I will not support Assad,” laments the 47 years-old dissident who lives in exile in America with wife and two children and who is still years away from becoming a U.S. citizen. “I’ll be waiting, doing what I can to save what can be saved in the end.”
Ammar cannot fathom how Europe is convinced that she can avoid fallouts from the conflict in Syria. “There is a leadership crisis, it helps to understand how we got here,” he says.
“Europe should think about the security implications for her,” argues Ammar. Geneva II could make sense, says the activist: “We do need a negotiation process, but one that actually imposes rules, without giving Assad and his allies the opportunity to raise the stakes. If we cannot resolve the Syrian conflict, in a few weeks, we will have uprisings in other countries, in other parts of the world. But we are doing nothing.”
Doing nothing is always an option, but what Ammar, who studied History and Astronomy in the U.S., is warning against is that sometimes doing nothing can be “overwhelming”.
“Refugees come en masse, and Europe is on the front line. See how it was difficult to integrate some Muslims, there were mistakes on both sides, the Europeans and the immigrants, with extremists getting more attention that they deserve, but, we can solve this problem. But a mass influx of refugees will create many crises in Europe and this will eventually have internal implications. With violence at the door and from all sides, the problems do not even have to come from international jihadists,” he says. “There is the possibility that European groups from the extreme left and extreme right would unite led by populists and would do a lot of damage. Maybe no one will believe this now, but in a couple of years it might become common sense. So much of what we said about Syria sounded bizarre, but it is now obvious.”
The refugees are coming, this is true. “By the time people start noticing something, it is means that it has already become that big a phenomenon, and that difficult to cope with and manage,” says Ammar. “The security problems of the 21st Century are getting born in Syria.”
The Worst of Presidents
Ammar is devastating when it comes to describing the performance of President Obama. “President Obama is one of the worst presidents we’ve ever seen in terms of foreign policy, and I know this sounds strange, coming on the heels of the Bush Administration, but he is anyway. Sometimes you do not need to do much to cause a global disaster. Inaction is often as disastrous as action,” says the Syrian who, if he were able to vote in the U.S. elections, would have voted for Obama, “not once but twice.”
“The U.S. is fed up with being the global policeman, something that I understand and accept,” explains Ammar. “The problem is that Obama wants to give up that role without there being a substitute. He is doing what I call the Shirk ‘N Shift, shirk the responsibility and shift the blame, that’s Obama’s foreign policy. It is not our responsibility to do anything, he says, it’s the global community who should bear the responsibility and blame, that’s what Obama said at the UN in connection to Syria.” All right, but that leaves a huge gaping hole in international security and who is filling the void: Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda. Later, China might join in. Are these the right people you want to pass power to?”
Ammar looks at Syria and what he sees is that “the international coalition that supports Assad continues to grow. “We have the Iranians, the Russians, the international left who opposes Western intervention, and now we have the international right-wing as well. We are currently witnessing a global identity crisis. After World War I, we had the League of Nations, and after the Second, we had the UN. But no global institution emerged after the end of the Cold War to tackle the issue of conflict resolution in the emerging new environment. We witnessed the creation of the G20, which is a good idea but not surely not enough for the task at hand.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, the White House seems comfortable with this new way of behaving. “They are celebrating, think they won, that they forced Assad to retreat, and now President Rouhani of Iran wants a deal, and they are apparently very happy with that.”
Sometimes Ammar wonder whether the Obama Administration really believes that things are going as well as they claim, or that they simply want to convince the rest of the world of that. “I do not know sure what believe anymore, but I suspect they do actually believe in what they say. After all, President Obama has dismissed all dissenting voices. This is the worst case scenario.”
The World Without A Sheriff
Two years ago, a lot could have been done in Syria, Ammar argues. “What Obama said he wanted to do in September, shocked the regime like a heart-attack.” If he had done so in 2011 when the city of Homs came under siege, it would have been enough. This would have forced Assad to come to the negotiations table, and would have curbed the madness. I do not understand what went through the minds of world leaders to make them decide not to do anything.”
Ammar says he does not understand but he actually does, or at least he has a theory. “Obama did not want to get involved in Syria in an election year. When elections were over, he still could have done something, albeit it was too late for some. But, “Mr. International” was not international. He believes that he should intervene only when America’s security is directly in danger. I heard similar a speech from the Israelis, the Israelis believe that Israel is a fortress nation surrounded by enemies, but Israel I strong enough to defend herself when her security is at risk. This approach will not work for the U.S. The current disengagement from the world only empowers the radicals, and all of them are anti-American.”
Now, Ammar fears the worst, for Syria, for Europe, for the U.S. and for everyone. “There will be more conflicts and more countries will implode, Sudan, for example. The reaction that this “it is not our problem” solves nothing. When we let ethnic cleansing happen somewhere in the world the message is ‘the sheriff not at home’. There is actually no sheriff. President Obama says he wants the UN to be the sheriff but he did nothing and offered no vision to reform the UN, to enable it to play that role,” the activist accuses.
“It’s now time America learned a lesson and became more moderate,” says the Syrian. “Should America leave a void that the UN cannot fill, those who will fill it will constitute a danger to global security.”
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