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Can We Give Meaning to Syria’s Destruction?


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Lund, Sweden.

In 2012 when it all started, an educated conflict analyst or otherwise conflict competent person would have said about the conflict in Syria that it was a very complex thing, caused by history, environment, traumas, external factors, the economic situation, etc.

And that al-Assad and his government was certainly an important reason but far from the only one.

The conflict expert would have warned against at last four ways of thinking:

a) any interpretation that put all the good people on one side and all the bad people on the other – because there are no conflicts in the world with only two such parties;

b) any idea that the conflict could be solved by siding with the presumed good ones and going against the bad one(s);

c) every attempt to ‘weaponise’ the conflict and increase the level of violence, the duration of the conflict and the human suffering;

d) any and every idea that foreigners would know better than the Syrians themselves – government, opposition and citizens in civil society – what should be a solution.

Finally – the professional conflict and peace worker would have maintained that you can’t make peace by asking one person – not even brilliant ones like Kofi Annan or Staffan di Mistura – with a small team around him and some shuttle diplomacy to succeed with facilitation, consultations, brainstorming, proposal-making, mediation and, finally, some kind of negotiations leading to a peace agreement in what is undoubtedly one of the most complex and ‘hard’ conflicts on earth.

Peace-making requires a completely different approach to not just be a pawn in the wider war game – a game that according to Al-Jazeera today encompasses some 900 military groups – add to that government forces and all the political and civil groups that don’t carry weapons: 1500?

Five years later – at least 250.000 dead people, 3 million refugees and 6,5 million internally displaced people, cities, economy, cultural heritage destroyed – anyone can see that no one listened to such simple conflict rules of thumb.

Conflict and peace illiteracy

The self-appointed and completely un-educated, peace-makers of the international community – presidents, prime and foreign ministers of the US, NATO, Russia, etc. – did about everything else.

It seems to not even occur to them or to the media that conflict analysis and peace-making is an established field of knowledge (theory as well as experience) and a profession – as much as is law, strategic studies, economy or political science.

It’s a bit like the Nobel Peace Prize – it’s decided by Norwegian ex-MPs, people who have no professional insight in peace theory and practise. Would such a committee be accepted as deciding the prize in, say, medicine?

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 10.18.51 AM

It doesn’t occur to anyone how much more easy it is to use violence, that violence can be applied by any uneducated fool and – more importantly – that violence, arms trade and all that makes the original conflict much much more difficult to solve.

Why then are conflicts such as Syria weaponised when it is so counterproductive?

Because of the enormous military-industrial interests, because the weapons are always on the ministry shelves, because arms traders move them from one place to the next and pour in new ones – profits from which goes to the multi-billionaires and criminals – and because of the totally absurd ongoing imbalance’ between the world’s military expenditures and peace-making expenditures – about 2000:50

And because of one more thing: We are told by our government-loyal Western mainstream media that all this politicians, statesmen etc are working to create peace. Some may – but closer to the truth is that there are governments who want war, who profit from war and who have strong interests in exploiting the chaos create by war.

All the failed wars and interventions – Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria to mention but a few – cannot all be results of Western goodwill, impartial – but failed – peace-making. Don’t be that naive, please!

Are you concerned about the world’s big problems?

Are you concerned about refugees numbers growing? About Western economies falling behind? About China rising? About climate change? Human rights increasingly being violated everywhere?

Of course you are – but! The above ways of (mis)handling conflicts will create global havoc – most likely involving also nuclear weapons – way before the other issues are becoming catastrophic.

Militarism is a much larger reason for the West’s decay than is generally understood. And militarism prevents, beyond it own destructive ways, the other problems from being solved.

The Syrian cessation of hostilities on February 27, 2016

And, so, this “cessation of hostilities” in Syria is not a first step toward peace. It will only be a short break in the fighting. It will give some groups designated terrorists (and outside the agreement) time to re-group and others not designated terrorists time to appear concerned about people – that is, after 5 years where none of them bothered about human lives but now when they’ve seen refugees pouring into Europe…

Why such cynicism, you may now ask?

Well, there is, in the best of cases, a will to peace here and there but overall much stronger interest in wars everywhere. The perhaps-goodwilled have no education, no competence, no resources, no media back-up and, worst of all, no ideas about:

a) how to restructure the entire conflict-handling apparatus in the international system,

b) how to reduce war and violence in the world and

c) what to do now in Syria.

They are in the firm hands of the Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex, MIMAC.

Violence and wars, we know. Civilisation, we don’t.

MIMAC, the world’s most dangerous class, is dangerous because it is conflict and peace illiterate and holds unlimited means of violence and other war resources, including propaganda, in its hands.

And where intellect and education is out and moral compasses long ago lost, weapons go in.

Kill one more thing in Syria to give it meaning

Syria is a dying patient, wrong or no diagnosis, prognosis and treatment by too many doctors who never studied medicine but try to convince us that they did their best.

Can this tragedy anyhow achieve some historical meaning, in spite of all? Can some forgiveness be granted for a quarter of a million dead – after a million in Iraq?

Only if one more thing is now killed in Syria: the colonial, militarist and racist ways of thinking that is the story of the West – US/NATO, EU and Russia – in the Middle East.

It is absolutely doable.

Are you an optimist? Will be done?

Jan Oberg is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research in Lund, Sweden.

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