When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

The Real Reasons The West Is So Passive On Syria

Bashar al-Assad propaganda in Damascus
Bashar al-Assad propaganda in Damascus
Antoine Basbous*


PARIS — Let's be honest, Syria's June 3 presidential election was nothing but a giant government-orchestrated masquerade. Bashar al-Assad will remain president of Syria, a country whose population has been largely decimated, as the three-year-long conflict has turned the country into a battleground for international jihadists from Shia and Sunni Islam, with the direct involvement of Iran and Russia.

Back in 2000, Assad's political ascendance was made possible by rushed constitutional reform to lower the minimum age for presidential candidates. He succeeded his father, who took power by a coup d’état in 1970.

How can we explain the longevity of this dynasty when the Assad family is from an Alawite minority (representing about 12% of the population) that has long been persecuted? Central to their success was the craftiness and brutality of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as the Assads' ability to numb the Syrian people by presenting sacrifices as necessary for the success of the Palestinian cause.

This trickery lasted until the 2011 "tsunami" when the Syrian people started to aspire to democracy. Trapped, Assad launched a diversion that should be covered in academic war studies, by turning the liberation movement into a religious conflict by freeing thousands of jihadists that he had sent to Iraq in 2004 to fight against the American military. There were members of al-Qaeda originally from Iran, who had found shelter in Syria after 2011, and served as the ideal structure to welcome all the jihadists into the country.

Then Baghdad's pro-Iran regime helped some 1,500 jihadists escape from its prisons, and they too moved to Syria. That's how the opposition's jihadist pipeline, manipulated by Tehran and Damascus, was born.

Iran has become a co-warmonger in Syria, engaging its elite soldiers and their auxiliaries from Hezbollah with cargos of weapons and generous financing. By highlighting the cruelty of Sunni Islam, Assad has tried to hide that the Shia-Alawite faction is actually just as cruel.

This all-out war waged by Assad and his allies, characterized by a systematic scorched-earth strategy, has displaced at least 40% of the country's population. It has even threatened the very identity of Syrian neighbors such as Lebanon.

Unconscionable passivity

Still, the biggest enigma remains the West's attitude toward the "hangman" Assad. The West has failed the Syrian people by encouraging them to overthrow the regime without providing any support. At the same time, the dictator's allies have been supplying him with multiple forms of assistance. Nothing has been able to sway the guilty passivity of the West. Not the use of chemical weapons or food blockade, neither barrel-bombing of civilians nor the torture deaths of some 11,000 prisoners. This is a West led by Barack Obama, who is a brilliant lawyer but otherwise incapable — because of a lack of authority or calculation — of making himself respected.

It is true that the U.S. president was elected (and re-elected) to end the conflicts of his predecessor, but his justifications for inaction are suspicious. While a direct response has been ruled out, nothing is stopping U.S. intelligence from doing in Syria what they have succeeded doing elsewhere by helping the moderate opposition rebuild itself. Moreover, it is this moderate opposition that's now pitted against jihadists and terrorists.

How can we explain that the collective defense capacity of the West is apparently unwilling to train 20 Syrian deserters and give them ground-air missiles to reduce Assad's air superiority and leave him no choice but to negotiate?

The mystery is so large that it is legitimate to doubt the sincerity of the West and its ally Israel about their desire for a political transition in Syria. Why haven't these powers allowed Gulf countries or Turkey to deliver equipment? Are the Syrian people being sacrificed on the altar of Iranian-American negotiation? Or is it about exhausting global jihadists in an endless war of attrition?

The result is clear. Assad can keep on destroying his people in the name of the fight against terrorism. Instead of stepping aside — like what Tunisian, Egyptian or Yemenite dictators did — Assad slaughters his people and presides over a divided country.

Regional civil war that has appeared to be a conflict between Sunnis and Shia Islam is far from being extinguished. Syria has become this century's largest cemetery. The West needs to react to mitigate the suffering of a people that has become martyrs, and to stop the flux of Western jihadists who will inevitably return to destabilize their native countries.

This can be done without sending a single soldier to Syria.

*Antoine Basbous is a Franco-Lebanase political scientist and director of the Paris-based Arab Nations Observatory (OPA)

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

Frédéric Schaeffer

JIAXING — It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest