Assad kills journalists too – the West must not work with his regime

Assad is not an ally, he is a man whose stubborn determination to preserve his dictatorship has killed hundreds of thousands.

Assad is not an ally, he is a man whose stubborn determination to preserve his dictatorship has killed hundreds of thousands

Abdul Raheem Kour Hassan was a journalist who worked for a radio station in Damascus. His family was informed in April 2013 that he had died while in regime custody, tortured to death in one of Assad’s prisons.

Bilal Ahmed Bilal worked for Palestine Today and covered the early protests in Syria. His family was informed in April 2014 that he had died while in regime custody, also tortured to death in one Assad’s prisons.

As Brooklyn Middleton wrote in August, the Islamic State’s ‘sensationalist’ type of brutality – beheading hostages on camera, crucifying people in public squares, forcing John Cantlie to tell the world ‘the truth’ about ISIS – has almost entirely eclipsed Assad’s. ISIS flaunts its brutality in a way that the Assad regime manifestly does not, and as a result the regime’s brutality, to be blunt, has grown banal. ‘Another day another barrel bomb’ almost.

Assad has been careful to cultivate an image of himself as a secular and rational David battling off an extreme and irrational Islamic Goliath (omitting, of course, that his regime receives considerable support – both direct and indirect – from the Party of God in Lebanon and the Islamic Republic next door).

These past months coverage of regime atrocities has withered in favour of the Islamic State’s, which continues to make a big show of its brutality. What is particular worrying about this is how the media’s disproportionate coverage of IS atrocities has convinced many – I’m thinking especially of Russia Today readers here – that Assad is not only a partner-in-waiting but also an essential component of the fight against terrorism in Syria (almost as if his regime hadn’t precipitated the rise of ISIS in the first place).

The prospect of an alliance with Assad is morally untenable. Any thinking and feeling person can and must acknowledge this. So what argument is there left? The “pragmatic” argument? At a debate I attended this week Patrick Cockburn of The Independent made the point that there are already boots on the ground in Syria waiting to crush the Islamic State. Whose you ask? Why, Assad’s! All that the West has to do is make the appropriate overtures and presto, the problem is solved.

Only it isn’t. As a number of commentators have already explained (with eloquence beyond my capacity), an alliance with Assad is utter strategic nonsense. In fact, it would be very un-pragmatic, if only because it would alienate the very people that the West most needs to woo – the Sunnis – by showing that the US and its friends are in cahoots with the chlorine-dropping dictator and the Ayatollah next door.

A strange case to be made by the anti-interventionists who so often stress the importance of winning ‘hearts and minds’.

Assad doesn’t publicly behead aid workers in the desert. His butchery is indiscriminate. How many James Foleys have ‘disappeared’ in the regime’s prisons? How many Alan Hennings have perished under the regime’s bombs? In Aleppo it matters not whether you are a jihadist, a journalist, a schoolchild: either way you’re getting barrel bombed.

This isn’t me downplaying ISIS’s brutality. It is (again, as any feeling and thinking person acknowledges) a despicable organisation that must be fought. I vehemently support the airstrikes around Kobane and deplore the West for its delayed reaction to ISIS’s metastasis, especially regarding the decision to arm the embattled Kurds.

Still, the ‘lesser evil’ narrative is demonstrably fatuous. Assad is not an ally, he is a man whose stubborn determination to preserve his dictatorship has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced many more, and whose bombs have destroyed the very country for which he claims to fight.

What reasonable person could claim that a humanitarian operation has been successful if the only result has been the substitution of beheadings with torture camps? Is this really the hallmark of a ‘lesser evil’?

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