Clara Connolly is an immigration lawyer and human rights activist.
I am not a geopolitical, but a human being. I do not shape my politics against what I hate, but with whom I empathise. I joined the Syria Solidarity Movement UK because I loved the spirit of the free Syrians, fighting for freedom, dignity and democracy against all odds. I was horrified by the enormity of those odds, and the terrible price that Syrians were having to pay for raising the banner of freedom. In whatever way possible, I wanted to help adjust the balance of power in their favour.
I understood why the struggle became violent, when soldiers in the Syrian army refused to shoot down their brothers and sisters, and had to fight or flee. The alternative was death for them; but I am not sure whether they were right to stand and fight a war of position neighbourhood by neighbourhood, village by village and town by town. Should they have known that they could not defend the people of those neighbourhoods, villages, and towns whom they had refused to shoot? I can’t answer that, and it is not for me to answer. All I know is that the Syrians I most admired, in the Local Coordination Committees and in myriad civil and human rights organisations around the country, stood behind them.
When Assad began to show his people, and the world, that he was prepared to destroy the country so that he could continue to rule it, neither his people, nor the watching world, could comprehend the manic destructiveness to which he would descend. When things get that mad, bad, or surreal, human beings tend to think ‘surely something can stop this?’
But throughout these 4 long years, during which time a peaceful revolution has descended into a vicious and often sectarian struggle, the inescapable fact is that Assad first and last has had a monopoly of air power, and therefore a monopoly of destruction. Despite the best efforts of some of the recent Syrian actors, the regime could and did kill by far the most non-combatants.
“Who can, who will stop it?”
So how to stop him? The answer is simple: tell him to stop, and if he doesn’t stop, cripple his air power. And who will stop him? Which, of all the hundreds of air forces, near and far, should do the job? When we ask that question, geopolitics enters the equation, and the answer seems much more difficult.
We can waste a lot of time analysing the history of imperialism, the ineffectiveness of the United Nations and particularly of the Security Council, stymied as it is by the power of veto, and the devious motives of the various old and new competing world powers. Meanwhile, tens of thousands more Syrians die, or flee into exile to become the unwanted of the earth.
So for me the best answer is the most pragmatic. Who can, who will stop it? What government or coalition of governments is more likely to succumb to political pressure in order to do so? I frame the question that way, because if any government had wanted to order its air force to do it, in its own perceived interests, it would have done so well before now.
That is why I support a no-fly zone, and why I think that the Syria Solidarity Movement, if it means anything, should heed the call of free Syrians to stop the bombs, by any means possible. I leave it to others to argue about the most probable, and also the least harmful, way to achieve this.