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The lesser of evils and fighting in Syria

There are a lot of things worth fearing, but an Islamic state isn’t one of them.

Not in concept, anyway – no more so than a Christian, Buddhist or Atheist one. Marrying religious values and political systems is hardly newsworthy. A high school history class curriculum could back that up.

So what is it that we fear about an “Islamic state”? Is it the fear that bullies all new concepts before their initiation into accepted public thought? Is it the version of Islam that would be involved should ISIS administer one of its own? Do we fear the means to the ends: the violence and hatred and terror involved in one group’s imposition of a state ruled by Allah?

The truth is, when media and politicians reference the ‘Islamic State’ they’re referencing ISIS’s rule in the region, for lack of a better term. And their version of an Islamic state – confusingly referred to as the Islamic State – on many levels should be feared. It should be challenged and it should be opposed because of, if anything, the way it’s being brought about: with indiscriminate violence and gross human rights violations.

We should oppose it because we should oppose any administration, or pseudo-administration, or state or wannabe state, that kills civilians and terrorizes populations. Because if it’s wrong to indiscriminately use violence and terror (take the moral argument or the legal one), in theory we should condemn all such attacks, by all parties, with equal force and unconditional outrage.

In 2013, for example, it was all about President Bashar al-Assad. The news droned on about chemical weapons, and Obama drew lines in the Syrian sand. In December of that year, a UN commission of inquiry into Syria implicated Assad and the highest levels of his government in war crimes and crimes against humanity. But even before the evidence, many western leaders had already condemned the head of a state that had lost 125,000 since the civil war started.

We don’t talk about that any more in 2015. It’s all about ISIS now and the Islamic State it wants to create. It’s about jihadists and global threats and broader terms of terror. It’s about the violence perpetrated by a non-state actor.

For various reasons barely explained, Canada and the international community spent years of committing and recommitting to humanitarian aid as Syrians suffered under Assad. Within months of ISIS hitting the airwaves back home, Syria via Iraq officially became Canada’s war. 

How quickly we jump to condemn terrorists; how slowly when they’re dressed in suits. We shot Assad dirty looks. And bombarded him with condemnations; ISIS got the real thing.

The UN envoy to Syria recently remarked that President Assad has become a necessary “part of the solution for the reduction of the violence” plaguing Syria. Other international players seem to agree. It’s a big shift from the days of fact-finding missions in search of Sarin, even if it’s a shift that’s accepted reluctantly by those calling for it. 

There are 3.8 million refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria. Half of the country’s population, over 12 million people, need aid to stay alive. Eight million have been forced from their homes. More than 2.3 million Syrian children are not in school. And since 2011, 100,000 children have been born as refugees. The death count is up over 200,000 too. If the UN’s high commissioner for human rights has it right, it’s a horrific situation that is spiralling out of control.

What started as an internal conflict that had everything to do with Assad is now an international crisis that’s hemorrhaging. People’s protests against a repressive rule have become a convoluted global fight against terror. What was first strong international opposition to Assad’s alleged war crimes has morphed into weak discussions about his involvement in the future of a state that didn’t want him in the first place.

What’s worse is we don’t talk about the very recent past, unless it’s in the context of how Assad is the lesser of the two evils we’re ‘fighting’ in Syria.

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