by Daniel Wagner
The U.S. government's recent embrace of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has come at a critical time in the Syrian conflict. Momentum now seems to have shifted in favor of the FSA, which is being actively armed by financial and military assistance from a plethora of foreign governments. Their message is that they want President Assad out, but they are not themselves prepared to intervene militarily in the conflict, which has emboldened the FSA to do the work on their behalf.
Given this, the Western media has adopted a sympathetic orientation to the FSA and is not reporting many of the distasteful details that are coinciding with its rise. Indeed, there is an ugly side to the FSA that much of the Western media and its governmental supporters appear to be willfully neglecting. They are in essence turning a blind eye to many of the human rights violations and actions contrary to their own beliefs that the FSA is committing in order to support the ouster of Assad.
The issues surrounding political change in Syria are multifaceted and much more intricate than is being reported in the Western media, yet the conflict is being painted in simplistic black and white terms — as a battle between a dictator who brutalizes his people and the FSA, which is supposed to represent the aspirations and future freedom of the Syrian people.
In fact, of the approximately 23 million citizens in Syria, around eight million are minorities such as Christians, Druze, Alawites and Kurds, who are represented solely by the government. At least a third of the Syrian people support President Assad by default. Many others support him by virtue of alliances with his support base.
The primary reason Aleppo was attacked by the FSA is because it was and remains supportive of the government. In response, the FSA has been acting more like a force opposed to the citizens of Syria than a force intended to secure their freedom. For example, it has in the recent past stolen wheat reserves intended for the residents of Aleppo and sold it to private Turkish grain traders, expropriated stocks of pharmaceuticals and forcibly resold them back to its owners, and ransacked schools. These are hardly the actions of a 'liberation force.'
In the outskirts of Aleppo, the FSA has implemented a Sharia law enforcement police force that is a replica of the Wahhabi police in Saudi Arabia — forcing ordinary citizens to abide by the Sharia code. This is being done in a secular country which has never known Sharia Law. This type of action is currently also being implemented in northern Mali, where the West has officially declared its opposition to the al-Qaeda government that took control earlier this year. If what is happening near Aleppo is representative of what may happen if the FSA assumes control of Syria, the country may become an Islamic state. Is that really what the U.S. and other Western countries are intending to tacitly support?
Although it has been widely reported that more than 40,000 Syrians have died in the conflict over the past 18 months, it has not been widely reported in the Western media that 25,000 of these have been from the Syrian military — leaving the impression that all the deaths have been civilians. Lebanese newspapers such as Al-Akhbar and Assafir, and Alex Jones' infowars.com, have broadcast a disturbing video of a 12-year-old child apparently forced by the FSA to cut off the head of a Syrian military officer. If such atrocities were more widely reported in the West, it seems unlikely that the FSA would enjoy such wide spread support. So, whether by intention or design, the Western media is also tacitly supporting FSA atrocities.
Also not widely reported in the West is that many of the defectors from the Syrian government — who were either diplomats or administrative staff — were allegedly paid by the Qatari government to defect. They simply refused to return to Syria from their posts abroad, and instead took refuge in Qatar. None of them have assumed leadership positions in the FSA, nor indeed have any of them taken up arms against the government. They are living comfortable lives in Qatar and are only fighting their 'war' via Facebook, if at all.
The FSA has also been targeting the infrastructure of the country. One of the main power plants in Damascus was knocked out for three days last week, impacting 40 percent of the city's residents. Do 'freedom fighters' typically attack critical infrastructure that impacts ordinary citizens on a mass scale? The FSA long ago stopped targeting solely government and military targets.
There is also evidence that the Saudis and Qataris support the al-Qaeda affiliate in the FSA (Jabhat al-Nusra) with money, and that Turkey gives JaN refuge and provides training inside Turkey. Although the U.S. government has officially declared its opposition to JaN, there is no effective way for it to segment its financial assistance to the FSA from JaN, so it is in essence tacitly agreeing to support al-Qaeda in order to remove Assad.
For some strange reason, the Western media and many Western governments are choosing to turn a blind eye to some of the more unsavory aspects of the FSA, which are blatantly in direct opposition to their own stated policies and values. Why remains a mystery — particularly given the stakes at hand and how the 'revolutions' in Egypt and Libya have turned out. The West should not be surprised if an Islamic state results from an FSA victory. If so, they will have been complicit in the outcome. The Syrian people are caught in the middle. Many of them, and the moderate states in the region, will be the losers.