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Adham Sahloul

Dear Muslims: Enough with the Syria #AllLivesMatter posts

People gather to protest Assad regime forces attacks on civilians, Toronto, Canada [Andalou]

Date of publication: 29 December, 2016

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Comment: Yes, #AllLivesMatter in Syria, but to dilute the crimes of the responsible state is dangerous, writes Adham Sahloul
Aleppo is an amuse-bouche from hell, whetting global appetite for the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria for the past five years.

This conflict is the worst of our lifetime, with over half a million dead, thousands missing, millions displaced, and countless Facebook arguments that ignore that real human suffering in Syria.

It bears repeating on the floors of parliaments in every western capital that our inaction let it happen. But of more importance to today, is to discuss with the Muslim community in the West - my community - the privileges and consequences of discourse on Aleppo.
 
Syria is not disappearing from the news headlines anytime soon. How, how responsibly, and how accurately we talk about what happened, what is happening, and what will happen in Syria, matters very much. At stake is the community's integrity. The worry is that much of its leadership, vocal or (worse) otherwise, are a part of the problem.

My colleague Dina Yazdani and I have written together previously to the Iranian and Syria American communities (from which we both hail, respectively) about how - as American Muslims - we worry that by abandoning principles at the altar of politicised religious factionalism, our communities are both dividing Muslims at home and not playing a role in helping alleviate the sectarianism abroad.

We must move beyond finger-pointing, and we must call a spade a spade. Anything less is highly irresponsible. This why I find Omid Safi's recent piece in the Washington Post, entitled "Aleppo is about the sanctity and dignity of each and every human life", to be an exercise in dumbing down and muddling the conversation on Syria.
At present in Aleppo, as well as for the past five years in the rest of Syria, the majority of civilian deaths have been at the hands of one side
In his article, Safi talks about the heartache that is Aleppo, waxing poetically but sadly missing the forest for a field filled with his and others' "straw men".

First, he claims that if "we cry out against the victims for one side, and have not a mumbling word to say about the other victims, our partial mourning is rooted in a flawed sectarianism." He creates a false dichotomy - two sides with equally legitimate arguments.

Make no mistake, there are two camps: Those who look at the situation on a factual basis and condemn human rights abusers, adjusted for scale and understanding of the dynamics on the ground, and those who are apologists for the Syrian government - whether they know it or not.

At present in Aleppo, as well as for the past five years in the rest of Syria, the majority of civilian deaths have been at the hands of one side. The vast majority of the over one million besieged Syrians across Syria are besieged by one side. The hospitals bombed during the four month siege of Aleppo were bombed by one side.

Those of us monitoring Syria closely understand this very well, and it is not "sectarian" to be condemning the Syrian government, Russia, Hizballah, and Iran for the starvation, forced displacement and ethnic cleansing they are employing against opposition-held areas in which the majority are Sunni Arabs.

One side, from day one, employed sectarianism, dividing and conquering, stoking radicalism and burning the country to maintain power.

 
Safi seemingly innocently links those condemning Assad or Iran, to Facebook comments on his wall that he claims incite sectarianism. One such anecdotal case was by "an Arab friend" of Safi's, "a leading scholar of Islamic law". Having followed this Arab scholar's work and commentary on Syria for years, and I would posit that Safi's accusations are anything but accurate.
Safi's piece reads like an "All Lives Matter" argument
Safi's post-factual approach continues, where he writes, "[i]f your stance on Syria is shaped by whether the killing is being done by Russia/Iran/Assad's genocidal government, or by Nusra/Jaysh/FSA genocidal forces, you still haven't gotten the part about the sanctity and dignity of each human life."

In a vacuum, the sentiment is important, but he recklessly conflates the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the umbrella term for what remains of the mainstream armed opposition, with the Salafist jihadist, Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (now rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) and whatever "Jaysh" might be.

He also places these three on the same plain as Assad and his allies Iran and Russia in terms of responsibility. According to human rights monitors, the Syrian government and its allies are responsible for at least 90 percent of the deaths in Syria.

Safi, in defensive comments under his article on Facebook, writes that he does not know how many people were killed by other side. Yet he continues to speak about what he does not know. One wonders if he realises that thousands of Iranian-backed Shia militia, Hizballah, Assad forces, and Russia have been bombing and starving Aleppo these past four months, and why, other than for a sheer lack of knowledge, Nusra is brought up in an article about Aleppo when Nusra is but a minority of the armed opposition groups in Aleppo.
 
Safi describes both sides in equal terms as "genocidal", when it is the Syrian government that has employed the forced displacement of Sunnis and population redistribution in formerly besieged cities like Homs.
The vacuum in which radicalisation grew was a direct result of Assad's war against his own people
Moreover, the arming of the Syrian Revolution, and the vacuum in which radicalisation grew was a direct result of Assad's war against his own people. He demonstrates a shallow understanding of recent and modern Syrian history.

The Assad regime, beginning with Bashar's father Hafez, was built by manipulating and suppressing in some shape or form every ethnicity, class, or religious group that made up Syria's rich social tapestry. The Assads succeeded in co-opting and stoking fears among minority groups such as his own Alawite community and giving carte-blanche to Sunni Arab extremists to help divide the opposition (as he has done for a decade).

IS, which goes largely untouched by Syrian and Russian airstrikes, and Nusra which infiltrated the moderate opposition which the world abandoned, and their ilk will stop at nothing to achieve their medieval, barbaric goals.

Yet, to measure cause and the effect on the same scale and to dilute the crimes of the responsible state is dangerous.

Safi's final, and most egregious straw man comes at the end of his piece where he decries "selective outrage" on our part and on the world's part.

Those who have been advocating for years to support a safe and pluralistic Syria for in solidarity with humanitarian principles and with the peaceful protesters of the Syrian Revolution, are outraged when crimes are committed by the opposition against civilians in government-held areas.
To measure cause and the effect on the same scale and to dilute the crimes of the responsible state is dangerous
In his and others' serious case of scotoma, one sees only what they want to see. He asks why the world is not outraged at the various western government instigated war crimes and human rights abuses.

We are outraged. It just so happens that at this moment, the world must focus on Aleppo and this crisis which has destabilised the Middle East and caused human suffering and displacement at a scale not seen since the Second World War.
 
Safi's piece reads like an "All Lives Matter" argument. The parallels are jarring. #AllLivesMatter was a response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, in an effort to dilute the very real grievances among the African American community about structural racism within the country's police, prison, and policymaking systems.

Indeed, all lives do matter, but a very real conversation and set of reforms are in order regarding the treatment of coloured bodies in the US. #AllLivesMatter is violent as it suffocates the voices of the oppressed.

Safi, a known progressive within the American Muslim community, should know this very well. Which is why his violent stance - dressed in sheep's clothing - is almost as surprising as the Post's promotion of such an amateurish voice on Syria.

One does not get to walk into a room they have largely ignored for five years, perhaps because it was socially expedient to do so, and then lecture everyone who has been working tirelessly in that room, and then plead ignorance once challenged.

While you will find no desire here to absolve Safi and others of their self-ascribed ignorance, it is clear that Syria is as complicated as one wants it to be.
 

Adham
Sahloul is a writer, analyst, and humanitarian worker based in Gaziantep, Turkey. He has written previously on Syria and U.S. foreign policy for TIME, Lawfare, Middle East Eye, The New Arab, and Syria Deeply.

Follow him on Twitter: @adhamsahloul

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.  
 
 

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