The Idiot’s Guide to Syria

The eye of the storm.

Most of us couldn’t point to Syria on a map, let alone decipher what the fuck is going on over there as Russia and the US threaten to up their involvement in a six-year war that has claimed some 300,000 lives and left more than 6 million innocent men, women and children homeless.

Be it local newspapers, the nightly news, the US presidential election or the countless horrific photos of young children dead in the streets, it’s been near impossible to go a day without hearing the word Syria. Like many of you, we’ve grown weary of coming up with excuses to leave the conversation every time the topic came up. So we decided to get knuckle-deep in some serious research to bring you the idiot’s guide to Syria.

Please explain

At the heart of it, it’s a civil war between soldiers of president Bashar al-Assad (bad guy dictator) and a number of Syrian rebel groups (the good guys on paper) determined to overthrow the regime responsible for punishing dissent amongst its people—even children—with death. It started with peaceful human rights protests by Syrian civilians in 2011 after 15 school children were arrested and allegedly tortured for scribbling anti-government graffiti on a wall. But the army opened fire on the protesters, killing four people and then another at the funeral of the first four. That’s when a request for democracy and freedom turned to demands for al-Assad to resign. He didn’t. Then the real uprising began.

The three-way war

Complicating matters is the fact those death-mongering fuckers IS saw an opportunity during the turmoil to seize control of Syria through occupying its biggest city, Aleppo. Meaning both rebel and al-Assad’s forces have had to face a war on two fronts—against each other, and combined against IS. So the rebels and the dictator join forces periodically, while still fighting each other, to take down the IS.

Why did the US get involved?

In the name of freedom and democracy, and following a number of massacres by al-Assad, President Obama gave aid and limited armed support to the Syrian rebels to help in their fight to overthrow the regime in 2011. The Syrian Government was then accused—and later confirmed—to have used chemical weapons (gas) on civilians, deeming al-Assad a war criminal by international conventions. Some heavy shit.

Sums it up pretty well. Patrick Chappatte for the International New York Times.

When did it become a Russian-American conflict?

The moment IS became involved in 2014. Every major country wants to put an end to IS, which brought the US, UK and Russia further into the picture. Problem is, Russia and President Obama have two very different approaches to the conflict. Putin armed al-Assad and his troops to take on IS and bomb the districts not only held by IS but rebel forces who are attempting to depose al-Assad—causing countless civilian casualties. Whereas Obama and the UN see al-Assad as a merciless dictator who needs to be stopped along with IS—even if al-Assad, as Donald Trump puts it, is helping the US by fighting Isis. It’s been the cause of massive debate in US congress, with some suggesting Obama should have become more involved and offered heavy US military support sooner rather than limiting their military response in 2014 to air strikes, in partnership with the coalition that includes the UK.

What is IS and what’s the difference between ISIS, IS and ISIL?

They’re effectively the same thing, with only geographic locations changing the acronym. IS stands for Islamic State, a fundamentalist militant group that enforces Sunni Islam and primarily operated in Iraq. The iteration ISIS was self-promoted once the terror organisation extended beyond Iraq and into Syria, standing for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or Al-Shim. ISIL too means the same thing, standing for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (large area encompassing Syria).

It’s important to note that the terror group branded themselves the Islamic State, meaning they are in no way supported by the majority of the Islam faith—including most Sunni.

Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi illustrated in Time.

What are they trying to do?

To enforce sharia law—think stonings, slavery and amputations—on the world and eradicate other religions in an attempt to bring about the apocalypse. Seriously. It’s based on their interpretation of the Quran (bible equivalent). And they are led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdad, the man they believe to be the caliph—or successor to the prophet Mohammed.

Atlantic Magazine’s Graeme Wood wrote in 2015: “We can gather that [IS] rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.”

What’s this all got to do with Syria?

Among mainstream Sunni sources and avid supporters of IS there’s the belief that: “The armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest.” This foretells of a battle between an Islamic army and an infidel (unbelievers) horde in Syria, in which Sunni Islam will triumph over Christianity and herald the destruction of the world. This belief is used as propaganda to recruit jihadists (fighters for Islam) who believe they will be part of history, and as a booby prize get rewarded with 72 virgins apiece.

Sunni v Shia

Muslims are either Sunni or Shia, depending on which of Muhammad’s successors they follow. ISIS claim to be Sunni, but hold little regard for the moderate Sunni and consider Shia Muslims apostates (deserters of true Islam). Hence, they are the enemy and must either convert or die.

A soldier overlooks the rubble. Getty Images.

The innocent victims

With war raging, more than 6.5million regular Syrians have either fled the country or escaped to the countryside in order to find safety and peace. This has branded them as “refugees”, a politically sensitive term that the ignorant equate with terrorism. Refugees are homeless and stateless casualties. France, the UK and Germany have all agreed to take in excess of 20,000 refugees each from the makeshift camps by 2020. Though the people in the camps are but the few lucky enough to survive the 3000km journey by foot through Turkey, Slovakia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary and The Czech Republic.

What now?

It rages on. Though president-elect Trump has suggested on more than one occasion to join forces with al-Assad and Russia instead of opposing them to conquer IS, even if it comes at the expense of Syrian democracy and freedom. It’s a rock and hard place conundrum.

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