Wed, Nov 30, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Syrians’ suffering fails to strike a chord in Europe


Rescue workers and residents try to pull a man out from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on the rebel-held neighborhood of Salhin in Aleppo, Syria, on March 11.

Photo: AFP

As the bombs rain down on the city of Aleppo the scenes of suffering are horrific, yet the Syrian war fails to move people to protest in the way that the US intervention in Iraq or the siege of Sarajevo did.

In Paris’ traditional place of protest, Place de la Republique, demonstrators spelled out “Free Syria” in candles on Friday, as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad increased their control of rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

However, barely 100 people took part in the protest.

“I find it hard to understand. This is a cause which people should rally around,” said one of the participants, Ahmad Darkazanli, who originally came from Aleppo, but has lived in France for 50 years.

It has been a similar story in London, Berlin and Rome — the plight of the Syrian people fails to strike a chord.

“Aleppo is already a Sarajevo, a black chapter in the history of mankind and of international politics,” said Jan Egeland, the head of the UN-backed humanitarian taskforce for Syria.

Intellectuals across Europe took up the fate of Sarajevo, the destroyed capital of Bosnia, during the 1992 to 1995 war and the conflicts in Gaza brought thousands of people into the streets.

The US intervention in Iraq unleashed massive demonstrations, including an estimated 1 million people who marched through London in February 2003.

However, Syria fails to stir the same feelings of solidarity.

As the war has ground on for five years, the mainstream media and social media have been filled with images of barrel bombs, children struggling to breathe after chemical weapons attacks, dead prisoners, and desperate families scrambling through the rubble of their shattered homes.

“It’s so barbaric that it’s hard for people to take in,” said Ziad Majed, a professor at the American University of Paris.

Photographs of Aylan, the little Syrian boy found drowned on a Turkish beach, and the blood-streaked face of another child, five-year-old Omran, who had emerged from the rubble of his bombed home in Aleppo, caught the world’s attention for a few days.

However, “it’s one horror after another and because people don’t understand who is killing whom, they feel powerless and they don’t want to look at it or think about it any more,” Majed said.

The complex nature of a conflict that began as a civil war after al-Assad cracked down on the opposition but has gradually spread to the whole region and sucked in Muslim militant groups might be to blame for the general public’s indifference.

“Who is against Assad? And who is on his side? Should tyrants be ousted? We saw where that led in Iraq and Syria,” Paris-based artist Stephan Polonski said.

In the Middle Eastern “Great Game” that the Syrian war has become with Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf states all playing a role, and the Islamic State group feeding off the resulting chaos, “the Syrian people and their aspirations for democracy are invisible,” Majed said.

“I think the attacks carried out in Europe by DAESH have exhausted the capacity of people in the West to show empathy or anger at what is happening in Syria,” said Pauline Hamon, a journalist, using a name for the Islamic State derived from its Arabic acronym.

“As far as we are concerned the real enemy are these fanatics,” said Charlotte Cruchet, a housewife in her 40s.

“Unfortunately, many people think that in the Middle East we’re violent, we kill each other, we’re incapable of being democratic and we’ve got the regimes we deserve,” said Farouk Mardam-Bey, a French-Syrian publisher who is president of the French support group for the Syrian revolution, Souria Houria.

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