For some years now, we have highlighted the pointed, often sarcastic banners displayed by the brave people of Kafranbel, Syria, aimed at Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah, the Iranian and Russian regimes, the Islamic State– and, yes, at the Obama administration for its failure to intervene more forcefully on behalf of the Syrian people.
Now Raed Fares, one of the Kafranbel activists, has written an account for The Washington Post which ought to stand as a rebuke to everyone on the Left and the Right who has concluded that the war in Syria has been reduced to a struggle between the Assad regime on one side and IS on the other, with no other possible outcome– or even that the disgusting murderer Assad is the only hope for defeating the Islamist extremists and restoring “stability.”
Fares, the victim of an assassination attempt by IS, writes:
We have fought the regime, we have fought extremism and we have maintained our focus on bringing a civil democracy to Syria. The Assad regime has bombed us nonstop since August 2012, killing more than 500 civilians. The Islamic State also used to attack here, raiding our offices and assaulting our activists, but its attempt to kill me was its last gasp in Kafranbel. The people of Kafranbel rose up and kicked the group out. The Islamic State has no presence here today.
Russian warplanes are attacking us anyway. They have fired missiles into a U.N. World Heritage site, bombed hospitals and bombarded a displaced-persons camp with artillery. They have carried out repeated airstrikes on civilian areas, killing a father and son just before I wrote this. While Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that he is bombing Islamic State “terrorists” in Kafranbel, this cannot be true, or there is no way I would be able to move about freely. Kafranbel is known for its moderation and civil activism; I know that these are Putin’s real targets.
If civil activism in Kafranbel declines, though, I will blame Russia. One reason for our thriving civil society is that we are being defended by Free Syrian Army fighters who grew up in the town and are firmly committed to democracy. These fighters, who have received U.S. assistance, serve as a check on any extremist groups that try to cause trouble. Russia is bombing the pro-democracy fighters of Kafranbel most heavily, almost as if it wants the extremists to grow stronger. For this reason, Russia has emerged as an enemy of civil society here. Local activists have taken the rare steps of burning a Russian flag and protesting alongside local Free Syrian Army fighters to highlight this point.
Americans should not be so passive in the face of Putin’s farcical anti-Islamic State campaign. Kafranbel’s thriving civil society is in many ways modeled after that of the United States, and in some cases has even received U.S. funding. Putin long ago made clear that he is no fan of civil society in general, so when he assaults the free people of Kafranbel (or Ukraine), Americans should take notice. I hope that the American people will come to the defense of Kafranbel and all Syrians who are fighting for democracy, because their country’s current behavior, as a bystander to atrocities against free people, cannot possibly be a true reflection of what the United States stands for.
It is, in other words (to quote Orwell in another context), a state of affairs worth fighting for– or, if you are outside Syria, a state of affairs worth your time and effort to support at every opportunity.