West­ern Fight­ers in Syria! Who is to Blame?

By: Ste­fan Koolen


Over the two-​year-​old cri­sis in Syria, a rel­a­tively lit­tle atten­tion and sup­port was pro­vided by the west­ern coun­tries, includ­ing the Nether­lands, com­pared with the con­sid­er­ably enor­mous suf­fer­ing of the Syr­ian peo­ple amid the grow­ing vio­lence across Syria. Obvi­ously, the inac­tion and reluc­tance of the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity towards this cri­sis was a main rea­son for the rise of the already exist­ing feel­ings of com­pas­sion with the vic­tims of the ongo­ing war in Syria.

One of the main issues cov­ered recently by the Dutch and Bel­gian local media is the depar­ture of a num­ber of young cit­i­zens –with Mus­lim back­ground –from both coun­tries to par­tic­i­pate in the cur­rent war in Syria and fight against the Assad régime. In fact, the par­tic­i­pa­tion of non-​Syrians in the Syr­ian war is a con­sid­er­ably sen­si­tive issue, and on the basis of the actual inten­tions of those par­tic­i­pants, some aspects could be under­stand­able, but still dis­agree­ment would be my posi­tion in the end.

Mouaz Al Khatib, leader of the National Coali­tion of the Syr­ian oppo­si­tion, beside many other Syr­i­ans who have con­stantly demanded sup­port but refused any “for­eign inter­ven­tion”, do not really wish such a “sup­port” when the supporter’s ide­ol­ogy, reli­gious views and dis­tant goals dis­agree with the prin­ci­ples for which the Syr­ian peo­ple launched a rev­o­lu­tion. Undoubt­edly, Al-​Qaeda –con­sisted of fight­ers from dif­fer­ent nation­al­i­ties –can also be clas­si­fied as one of the for­eign groups that is not very wel­come by the major­ity of the Syr­ian people.

On the other hand, many con­cerns should also be taken into account, includ­ing the fears of the west from those young fight­ers’ return and the dan­ger they may form on the secu­rity of the west­ern coun­tries where they are based. How­ever, there are many dimen­sions in this issue to con­sider in order to acquire a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the actual inten­tions of those youth to leave the Nether­lands and Bel­gium, and go to Syria to take part in the cur­rent bloody war.

Although many analy­ses focus basi­cally on the ide­o­log­i­cal motives of those guys, still the ‘ide­ol­ogy’ itself doesn’t seem to have played a key role as gen­er­ally believed. Thus, to under­stand and com­pre­hend the facts behind this action by the above-​mentioned youth means to reduce the fears of any poten­tial con­se­quences; a suf­fi­cient and accu­rate under­stand­ing can even lead to found­ing a bet­ter pol­icy to pre­vent those youth from head­ing to Syria.

Koen Vossen, a political-​historian (poli­tiek his­tori­cus), has explic­itly pointed out that the phe­nom­ena of Dutch (young) adult males join­ing a fight against a fas­cist régime “vol­un­tar­ily” is not a new one. Dur­ing the Span­ish civil war (19361939) between Franco –sup­ported by Hitler– and the Span­ish gov­ern­ment, sev­eral hun­dreds of Dutch men vol­un­tar­ily par­tic­i­pated in the war. Most of them were com­mu­nists and the ide­ol­ogy was obvi­ously used as a facil­i­ta­tor and moti­va­tor. As a con­se­quence, pop­u­lar wor­ries pre­vailed within the Dutch soci­ety and the main con­cern was regard­ing the poten­tial sce­nar­ios that could take place with the return of those men.

Appar­ently, there is a more com­plex issue under­neath the choice of join­ing the fight in Syria. Undoubt­edly, more accu­rate infor­ma­tion about the rea­sons behind the par­tic­i­pa­tion of those fight­ers will be more suf­fi­ciently revealed in the future. Nev­er­the­less, cer­tain cir­cum­stances seem to have con­tributed to the moti­va­tion of the youth (Dutch and Bel­gian) to make this cru­cial decision.

Com­pas­sion and sol­i­dar­ity, whether deemed a curse or bless, are con­sid­ered as basic char­ac­ter­is­tics of every human –or at least the major­ity of them –espe­cially when chil­dren, women or older peo­ple, i.e. peo­ple who are pre­sumed to be inno­cent in any con­flict, are suf­fer­ing, this feel­ing will be acti­vated. That’s why most of the news reports focus basi­cally on the num­ber of casu­al­ties among chil­dren, women and elderly. Show­ing sol­i­dar­ity and help­ing the vic­tims can take dif­fer­ent forms, includ­ing a mate­r­ial care and sup­port to those who do or try to join the struggle.

The will­ing­ness to par­tic­i­pate will even be greater when we real­ize that many gov­ern­ments have ambiva­lent atti­tude towards the con­flict in Syria. Most gov­ern­ments do oppose the Assad régime, but are unwill­ing to sup­ply weapons to the oppo­si­tion because of some ambigu­ous reasoning.

The wor­ries con­cern­ing Syria’s future form a part of this reluc­tance, espe­cially when the issue of the reli­gious minori­ties in Syria is con­sid­ered, regard­less of the suf­fer­ing of the rest of the Syr­i­ans. This atti­tude is very hard to accept, at least par­tially, since this fear has been raised by the Assad régime itself and by var­i­ous media insti­tu­tions since the begin­ning of the ongo­ing conflict.

Many pub­lished arti­cles have illus­trated the wor­ries of the Chris­t­ian minori­ties in Syria, point­ing out the biased posi­tion of these minori­ties to the régime’s side. More­over, media has repeat­edly pointed out that other coun­tries in the region have recently seen a more prob­lem­atic atti­tude towards (reli­gious) minori­ties. It is impor­tant to note that it is, as Edward Said already showed in his book Ori­en­tal­ism, dif­fi­cult for “west­ern­ers” to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between Ori­en­tal coun­tries. There­fore, mak­ing a com­par­i­son between Syria and Iraq, Egypt or even Afghanistan is eas­ily accepted by the west­ern view. Accord­ing to Mouaz Al Khatib, as pointed out dur­ing his speech on March 26 at the Arab sum­mit in Doha, this argu­ment is ‘hyp­o­crit­i­cal’ or at least dif­fi­cult to under­stand for many.

Nonethe­less, cer­tain peo­ple may have stronger feel­ings regard­ing the urgent need to help other humans and res­cue them from extreme suf­fer­ing. That is when an ide­ol­ogy seizes the oppor­tu­nity to facil­i­tate the feel­ings of such peo­ple con­cern­ing injus­tice, com­pas­sion and sol­i­dar­ity. The ide­ol­ogy pro­vides a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion –as the Syr­ian régime con­sists of heretic Alaw­ites and attacks Sunni-​Muslim and their mosques) and means to join the con­flict in order to con­duct the alleged justice.

Appar­ently, Mouaz Al Khatib has rightly pointed out the ambigu­ous atti­tude and rea­son­ing of many gov­ern­ments con­cern­ing Syria. This rea­son­ing fur­ther sheds its light on the debate about the so-​called jihadists leav­ing our coun­tries and head­ing to Syria. There is remark­able lack of an under­stand­able west­ern pol­icy regard­ing Syria, result­ing in more suf­fer­ing for the Syr­ian peo­ple, and even­tu­ally lead­ing to a self-​fulfilling prophecy, namely Jihadist and intol­er­ance towards minori­ties. The only way to resolve this expand­ing prob­lem­atic issue is to rec­og­nize our fal­lac­ies and rec­tify our method.

Source: ARA News

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