Syria: Something must be done

Musa Okwonga

138511523 256x300 Syria: Something must be doneI am no foreign policy expert, and so until now I have refrained from writing anything about Syria.  Until now, I have instead confined myself to tweeting my simultaneous senses of frustration, helplessness and anguish about the situation, whilst faithfully following those on Twitter whom I have deemed better placed, either emotionally or intellectually, to comment on this crisis than I. (I have included a list of Twitter accounts here – some contentious, all compelling – that I have found indispensable to my embryonic understanding of what is going on.)

Having read several of the critiques both for and against intervention in Syria, I was no less confused.  Those in the West who are best placed to make a military intervention have closets stuffed full of colonial skeletons.  Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their attendant horrors, are still fresh in the memory.  War with Iran is being mooted with a worrying frequency.  In this context, any Western incursion into Syria is viewed with appreciable and understandable suspicion.

And so, unable to add anything other than sympathy and sadness to this conversation, I either sat on my hands and wrung them; until I realised that, while I am not a foreign policy expert, I can draw a historical and personal parallel to what is happening in Syria as I type.   In the 1970s, my parents fled Uganda and the butchery of Idi Amin, whose soldiers were terrorising many students just like them: raping the women, and murdering the men.  They escaped with the aid of two Scottish doctors, who brought them to safety in the UK.  There is a film of that period, The Last King of Scotland, which by most accounts so well captures the brutality of Amin’s rule that I am to this day unable to watch it. Given that I owe my very existence to foreign intervention against a murderous dictator, I am very strongly in favour of action being taken in Syria.

What I find disconcerting is the binary discussion around the options available.  The choice seems to be between regime change and no action at all, but I think that is a false dichotomy.  If the immediate concern is the prevention of Assad’s further slaughter of his own citizens, then a focus upon evacuation from areas of greatest danger might be a possibility.  In an ideal world, I would rather not be sitting here in severely wind-chilled Britain,  but at least I am alive.

As far as nations with the power to affect Syria are concerned, perhaps more humble and less self-interested goals might be of greater benefit to those Syrians under siege in Homs.  I write this only because what I know of Uganda reminds me of what I see and read now: a killing spree conducting whilst the world presses its nose against the glass.  It is as if we know that someone is hacking their family to death in the house down the road, but we and the police don’t know how to react.

I realise that this may read as naivety.  I know that Syria is a strategic prize: the key in many ways to the power struggle in the Middle East, and that Assad’s fall would be seized upon by various vultures.  I have read various pieces about the respective roles and interests of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the US, the UK, Iran, Israel and so on, with the situation often described in the abstract, as if it were some grand geopolitical endgame.  But the Syrians, like we Ugandans before them, like the Rwandans in 1994 and the Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995, are not wooden chesspieces, they are human beings, of broken flesh and flowing blood.  I hope that we can find a way of treating them as such.

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  • greggf

    “They escaped with the aid of two Scottish doctors, who brought them to safety in the UK.”

    On the basis of your ”historical and personal parallel” you are ”very strongly in favour of action being taken in Syria”. 

    I just want to make sure I’ve got this correct Musa, because it means more refugees – good and bad. 
    And how much public support do you think there is for more refugees to enter the UK? That is, bearing in mind the difficulty the UK seems to have in getting them to go home especially the bad ones.

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