The uprising of the people of Syria against the Assad dictatorship has been in the news for awhile. And, like anything that we see again and again, it has produced some kind of fatigue.
The Assad dynasty have been in power since the 1970s. They haveto ruled the country with an iron fist. In 1970s an uprising was met with a brutal crack down. The dead numbered in the tens of thousands. The outside world did absolutely nothing.
In March of 2011, in the midst of uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world, the people of the city of Dar'a in the south of the country took to the streets in peaceful protests demanding the Assad clan's departure from power. In the months that followed the protests spread to other areas: Hama, Homs, Deir ez-Zur, Idlib, etc. The regime's reaction to the protests has been frighteningly predictable. Every time, fighter jets, tanks and heavy artillery reduce cities to rubble while the "shabiha" militias, known for their cruelty, brutalize the civilian population. It was only after many months of savage massacres that a number of personnel from the armed forces defected and formed the Free Syrian Army in self defense.
The unrests have taken an exceedingly high toll. Casualty figures since the protests started top 20,000.
Yet surprising as it may be, Assad is not without his supporters among the population. The Assad clan belongs to the Alawite minority in Syria, which is a branch of the Shiite Islam. The rest of the population are mostly Sunni Muslims. The Alawites, who have formed the lion's share of the military brass under Assad, have shown little interest in joining the opposition.
But given the complexities of politics in the Middle East, that fact doesn't demonstrate the intricacies of the conflict.
For decades, the Assads have been the closets allies of the Shiite fundamentalist regime of Iran. Syria has also been the conduit for material aid going from Iran to the Lebanese terrorist Shiite militia, Hezbollah. While ties between the Assads, Iran and Hezbollah might have formed on the basis of sharing an enemy (Israel) rather than unifying Shiite ideology to begin with, the end result has been the formation of a strong alliance between these Shiite forces.
I have always had misgivings about the word "sectarian" that is used in the media to describe conflicts revolving around ethnicity and religion. I feel this word owes its existence to political correctness. Since nothing bad should ever be associated with religion (you can have "religious charities" but not "religious killings"), the word "sectarian" is used instead.
In the case of Syria, religion is the only thing setting communities apart. There is no ethnic difference between Sunnies and Alawites: they dress similarly, speak the same language and have the same skin color.
The conflict hasn't stopped at Syria's birders. Rather, it has turned into a regional war by proxy. Iran and Hezbollah dominated Lebanon (the Shiites) have been siding with Assad while fundamentalist Sunni Saudi Arabia, with its own heinous human rights record, has been supporting the opposition. This is what you get when religion trumps national identity. And while political allegiances have been forming around religious affiliation, ordinary people have been bearing the brunt of the atrocities.
Most recently, a group of Iranians were kidnapped by opposition forces in Damascus. While the regime of Iran claimed that they were pilgrims, it turns out that some of them were members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
I am dismayed that freethought organizations and personalities have been largely silent on this matter. To a point I can understand it. This has not been happening in Europe or North America and so for us, it is not local news. On the other hand, as humanists we cannot remain silent while people in their thousands suffer and die. Moreover, given that this genocide has a religious angle (like most of them) freethinkers should be the first to point out that centuries old ideologies in the hand of cynical politicians turn into weapons of mass destruction. This further shows the urgency for humanity's need to move away from doctrines and ideologies and toward a society with policies based on reason and evidence. Unless we accimplish this, an unnecessary number of us will prematurely die.