Middle East

Absurdity is questioning a dictator's motives

Saying the Assad regime is behind the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack does not mean calling for World War III.

A child receiving treatment at a field hospital after an alleged chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in north Idlib province. [EPA]

News flash: Bashar al-Assad is bad. He has been murdering his own people for more than six years now. Before that, his father did the same. And not once in the decades the Assad family has held power in Syria did it need "justification" for its crimes against humanity.

Thus, a confirmed nerve agent attack on Khan Sheikhoun, one of many chemical weapons attacks committed by the regime, is not out of the ordinary! Pro-Syrian revolution individuals or organisations who say that Assad committed chemical attacks on Khan Sheikhoun are not calling for World War III - they are simply naming the aggressor, as they have been doing for more than six years. 

Assad knows, six years in, that the entire international community isn't willing to take concrete steps resulting in his removal. And that is why it is completely ridiculous to even entertain questions like: "Why would the regime do this?"; "Why would the regime use chemical weapons?"; "Why would the regime use chemical weapons on Khan Sheikhoun?"

Dictators kill because they can. They use chemical weapons because they are simply another tool at their disposal. It is not surprising that a regime which has dropped countless barrel bombs on its own people and invited occupiers into its country would use chemical weapons, and it is quite absurd that Syrians who have had to physically and ideologically fight Assad, Russia, Iran, ISIL and al-Qaeda all at once are constantly called upon to combat the narratives of these "woke naysayers" when their bigger concern is surviving whatever the regime and its allies throw at them next.  

Khan Sheikhoun

Located about 90km from the Turkish border, the town of Khan Sheikhoun falls on the Damascus-Aleppo International Highway. Its civilian local council is led by Osama al-Sayadi. No armed factions maintain a presence in the town after Jund al-Aqsa tried but failed to capture it earlier this year.

Since its liberation from regime forces in June 2014, the town has been and continues to be subjected to air strikes by the regime and its allies, including a strike hours after Trump ordered the attacks on Shayrat airbase. The city is also home to thousands of internally displaced families from surrounding areas such as rural Hama.

OPINION: Syrians should not be thanking Trump for the strikes

Initially, the regime and Russia claimed they had carried out an air strike on "terrorist chemical weapons stores." But journalists from the area, as well as a journalist from the Guardian, provided video and photographic evidence that in fact, what regime and Russian media sources were calling a chemical weapons storage facility were actually abandoned silos the regime had destroyed in air strikes months earlier.

Russia enables the regime, and the US knows this

Late 2013, the UN Security Council charged the US and Russia with removing the Assad regime's chemical weapons stockpile. After several delays and missed deadlines, the country was declared to be rid of its chemical weapons by mid-2014. Mere months later, the UN raised concerns the Assad regime had not fully disclosed all its chemical weapons facilities.

Furthermore, the regime and Russia have continued to use chlorine to bomb Syrian civilians and Internally displaced people, as well as napalm, white phosphorus (or incendiary) bombs, cluster bombs, anti-aircraft missiles and vacuum bombs, among others. Russia has even bragged about the weapons it has tested on Syrian civilians.

Given this, the US' declaration that its attack on Shayrat airbase was a direct response to the use of chemical weapons was quite puzzling. It became even more puzzling when the US admitted it had notified Russia, an ally of the regime, that the air strikes were coming.

But perhaps most puzzling of all is that even given these facts about Russia's role as an enabler of the regime, self-proclaimed analysts still insisted on circulating the regime's official line: Syrians had orchestrated the Khan Sheikhoun attack, with the help of al-Qaeda, in order to incite a response from the US.

Selective solidarity

When the Israeli army bombs Gaza, it is rightfully taken to account by both Arab and western pro-Palestine activists. After Israel's major assault on Gaza in 2014 (Operation Protective Edge), the very same people now questioning whether Assad's regime was responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack were organising protests at that time and pushing for Israel to be punished.

Assad, with the assistance of Russia and Iran, has been doing the same and worse to his own people. So why is it that these activists aren't expressing any outrage against the Assad regime, instead choosing to defend it? They do not question the fact Israel is using internationally prohibited weapons on civilians when "it clearly has the upper hand".

Russia and Iran have been in Syria for years now, both as occupiers, and both committing crimes against humanity. Yet, it is only when the US or Israel strikes an Arab nation that anti-war groups wake up to protest, publishing statements on the sovereignty of Syria and protesting while holding photos of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. And when Syrians against Assad, living in the West as refugees, counter their narratives, they are silenced or accused of supporting terrorism.

This type of selective solidarity wastes the time and energy of Syrian journalists and civil society activists who are continually being put on the defensive. This dehumanisation of the Syrian people by the very activists who say they stand for human rights is incomprehensible. They send a clear message: they will never be convinced of the regime's brutality, even if they witness it themselves.

Malak Chabkoun is an independent Middle East researcher and writer based in the US. 

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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