Syria and al-Qaeda: the enemy of our enemy could turn out to be our most dangerous enemy of all
By Tim Stanley World Last updated: August 29th, 2013
We've spent the last twelve years fighting a war on terror, by which we mean a war on al-Qaeda. Now we're proposing intervening in the Syrian conflict on the side of – wait for it – al-Qaeda. We've lobbed a grenade at the looking glass and jumped straight through.
The above statement comes with caveats. First, al-Qaeda inspired Islamists are only one, unwelcome part of the rebel alliance. Second, any military action the West carries out will be devised to punish Assad for using chemical weapons rather than to decisively throw the war in his opposition's favour. But the reality is that any intervention into Syria involves picking sides and so helping one to win, and given that the rebel side contains all the fundamentalist fruitcakes we are – effectively – putting ourselves on the side of the crazies who hate us. You know, those folks who flew planes into the World Trade Centre. Remember them?
These are the kind of people we'd be allying ourselves with in any conflict. The Islamist rebels hate Christians and have given them the option of "flee or die". In June, the Catholic priest Francois Murad was murdered by a Syrian opposition group; according to the Vatican, he was beheaded in public while boys and men cheered. This week, video leaked out of the country purporting to show a roadside execution of three men accused of being insufficiently Muslim. Their truck was flagged down and they were interrogated to find out if they were Sunnis or members of the Alawite minority according to their prayer habits. When they gave the "wrong" responses, they were taken to the side of the road and shot in the back to shouts of "Allahu Akbar". The presence of such savages within the rebel ranks threatens to open up a second civil war within the rebellion itself: according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Kurds and Islamists are shooting at each other right now in the northeast of the country.
Of course, Assad has proven himself just as capable of brutality – he's a vile dictator that the West should have rejected, isolated and helped drive from office years ago. Had we intervened earlier, when the opposition was dominated by democrats, we might have compelled proper elections and created a freer Syria. But a mix of our inaction, Assad's tenacity, radicalisation and foreign intervention by Islamists has helped to pollute the rebel faction with religious maniacs. The result is that we don't know who we're siding with in a war that feels so depressingly inevitable. The enemy of our enemy could turn out to be our most dangerous enemy of all.
The prowar lobby keeps saying that if Assad wins the Syrian war there will be a bloodbath. That's more than likely. But if the rebels win there will be a bloodbath, too. It's that kind of war: lots of killing on either side and it all ends in a bit more killing. The only question is how much blood we in the West want to get on our own hands. I'd advise, "as little as possible".