By Yvonne Ridley
I am a peace activist but at the moment one wrestling with her conscience because, in truth, if someone gave me a gun and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad strolled into the crosshairs I think I would struggle not to pull the trigger. The former eye doctor is a monster who has no boundaries when it comes to killing his own people. I have known this for many years and so has America, Britain and their allies.
In fact, until recently, the US has been more than happy to hand over people to the Assad regime in the full knowledge of what would happen to them in the notorious torture dungeons hidden across Syria. As a craven partner in the war on terror, Britain will also have been kept in the loop.
These same dungeons were set up by Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad, a man who ordered the massacre of 20,000 Syrian citizens in the city of Hama in 1982. It was a brutal operation supervised by younger brother General Rifaat al-Assad. It seems that the apples do not fall far from the Assad family tree.
As such, for Obama to talk about red lines and for David Cameron to try and do a Blair, please forgive me for gagging with the stench of hypocrisy.
A red line was crossed way back in February 2011 when 18 schoolboys were “disappeared” by the Assad regime for daubing some harmless graffiti on a wall in Dera
another red line was crossed when the 11-year-olds re-emerged three weeks later with all of their finger nails missing, some of them castrated and every single one with at least one broken bone in his body.
A red line was crossed when, after six months of public rallies demanding justice over the treatment of the Graffitti Boys, more than 1,000 civilians had been killed; that was the breaking point for ordinary Syrians who had, until then, resisted calls to join the Arab Spring.
A red line was crossed a few weeks ago when the civilian death toll exceeded 100,000 and millions of Syrian men, women and children were listed as refugees in squalid camps in neighbouring countries.
The world is now confronted by a humanitarian disaster on a rapidly unfolding scale which can barely be compared with any other in recent times, man-made or otherwise. That the West thinks it can drop some bombs and cure the disaster speaks volumes in itself and reveals that nothing has been learned from the mess that is Iraq.
Nevertheless, the reality is that chemical weapons are being dropped on the Syrian people and they do need help from somewhere; anywhere. So what is a person of conscience to do or think?
If the US and Britain are really to be taken seriously both need to show more even-handedness, for there is another state in the region which has chemical weapons and has already used them in recent times; step forward Israel.
I never knew my maternal grandfather; he was gassed during World War One and died prematurely at the age of 50 never having recovered from the mustard gas attack launched on him and his comrades in 1916 as they fought in windswept trenches in France. In Vietnam in the 1960s chemicals called Agent Orange and Agent Blue as well as napalm were dropped by wave after wave of ugly American B52 bombers and the impact is still being felt today.
Despite knowledge of the horrific consequences, chemical weapons were deployed by Iraq against Iran during the 1980s and in 1988 Saddam unleashed mustard gas and other nerve agents on the Kurdish population of Halabja in Northern Iraq. All of this was with the full knowledge of the CIA and US government.
In 1993, though, the Chemical Weapons Convention was signed, outlawing all uses of chemical weapons in war, but that didn’t stop Israel using White Phosphorus rounds against Southern Lebanon in 2006 and on a civilian population in Gaza on January 3, 2009. White Phosphorus is an indiscriminate killer, as gas released from the explosion burns exposed flesh and the lungs of the victims, whichever way the wind blows. It is supposed to be used to provide a smokescreen for ground troops; when it is used against civilians, as it was by Israel, it is not only extremely lethal but also extremely illegal.
So when Obama talks about red lines being crossed, he is right; they have been crossed many times in recent years by friends and foes of the West, but red lines are meaningless if they do not draw a meaningful, uniform response from the international community.
While the Labour whips were punching the air and cheering on young Ed Miliband in Parliament after voting down the British government on the Syrian issue, Assad’s army used napalm on a school with all the consequences you’d expect from such an evil action. Talk about dancing on the graves of babies.
What is the solution? Intense diplomatic lobbying, not in the West but in the Arab world accompanied by some serious arm twisting must be done. This is the same Arab world which falls on its knees whenever Washington demands favours for Israel, which has to keep well out of this. Not everything is or should be focused on the Zionist state.
In the meantime Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other kingdoms in the region need to realise that democracy is not the Devil’s spawn. China and Russia need to start showing some compassion and maybe it is time to revisit the Syrian National Coalition’s (SNC) Moaz al-Khatib’s 16-point initiative to help ensure a peaceful transition of authority and an end to the violence in Syria.
This is no longer about presidential or political egos, red lines, special friendships, uneasy alliances, revolution, democracy, dictatorships or saving face; this is about saving lives. And that is something that most people seem to have forgotten.