Don’t rush to warThe pictures coming out of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria are horrific. Children foaming at the mouth, some with terrible head wounds. No wonder the reaction of the world has been outrage. ‘Assad must go’ has been revived as a catchphrase.
Apr 13, 2017
By Fr Justin Glyn SJ
The pictures coming out of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria are horrific. Children foaming at the mouth, some with terrible head wounds. No wonder the reaction of the world has been outrage. ‘Assad must go’ has been revived as a catchphrase.
We are right to be appalled. Nevertheless, several features about the reported sarin attack in Syria’s Idlib Governorate should give pause in the current rush to judgment. Firstly, while you wouldn’t know it from much of the media, the facts themselves are contested.
The first reports from inside Syria on which the world relied came from rebel news agencies and the White Helmets, a group set up in Turkey by a former British special forces officer which operates exclusively in rebel-held areas of Syria and has been closely associated with rebel military formations.
These reports claim that the Syrian government attacked the town, launching the feared nerve agent sarin in airstrikes. The pictures released to prove this show first responders from the White Helmets treating the victims just after the attacks.
Sarin, like other nerve agents, disrupts the operation of enzymes involved in transmitting nerve impulses, causing the body to seize up. Death comes by suffocation. Crucially, however, it is absorbed through the skin. The pictures released show the rescuers apparently unharmed, notwithstanding their bare hands, face (except for a standard gas mask) and loose fitting clothing.
If it was a sarin attack, the rescuers would be as dead as their victims. This already casts doubt on the narrative, a doubt increased by the fact that Syria’s last Category 1 chemical weapons (including sarin) were certified destroyed aboard a US warship in 2014 under the supervision of the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons.
Later reports suggest that chlorine was in fact the agent involved.
The Syrians, however, claim that there was an airstrike by their forces. They used ordinary explosives and what was hit was a rebel munitions dump, possibly containing chemicals.
That may be so, although sarin is often launched using conventional artillery and whether or not this would be true of chlorine or other chemical stockpiles is even less clear. No independent party has yet got to the scene and so the allegations on both sides remain just that.
Not only that, investigating alleged chemical attacks is notoriously difficult especially in a war zone. Besides, it is important to note that chemicals degrade over time and so, unless a team goes in soon, the truth may be impossible to discover.
It is worth mentioning that chemical weapons are usually the choice of desperation. So abhorrent are they to the civilised world that no-one would even consider using them unless their back was truly against the wall. This is not really Assad’s position. Then, is he an authoritarian? Certainly. Is he cruel? Absolutely — he did, after all, maintain stockpiles of chemical weapons himself until recently.
Assad, however, is winning in Syria. With Russian help, he has reclaimed most of the territory he lost before 2015 and now controls over half of Syria’s territory containing over 80 per cent of its population.
However, nothing has stopped the rolling drumbeat towards a wider war from starting up again. Thus, this Syrian civil war is NOT free of foreign players. Many nations are involved and they are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, Russia, the US/NATO, Turkey and Israel in one capacity or another along with an eye-watering array of rebel groups owing allegiance to various foreign powers.
Now, the stakes are even higher than in previous Syrian interventions.
-- Fr Justin Glyn SJ is studying canon law in Canada. Previously he practised law in South Africa and New Zealand and has a PhD in administrative and international law.
Source: Eureka Street (edited)
Third Sunday of Easter: Word and Sacrament
It is important that we have bibles, and pray with our bibles, but we have been given a gift that is greater than even our bibles. We have been given the gift of the Eucharist.