Geopolitics

Ordinary Syrians Angry At U.S.-Led Strikes At ISIS

U.S.-led airstrikes aimed at ISIS are being met with resistance in Syria. Some ask why it took the death of U.S. journalist James Foley for Washington to intervene.

A 10-year-old Syrian boy's drawing showing life in his war-torn country.
A 10-year-old Syrian boy's drawing showing life in his war-torn country.
Omar Abdullah

IDLIB — Since the beginning of Syria's uprising, opposition supporters have been asking for international intervention in the country's war. Their demands for help came in various forms, starting with a request to create a no-fly zone over Syria and ending with pleas to provide arms, training and funding to those willing to fight President Bashar al-Assad.

Yet the launch of U.S.-led military strikes against the ISIS terror group have now prompted Syrians to take to the streets in protest. Many condemn the airstrikes, and some even swore allegiance to ISIS as newly minted sympathizers with the extremist group.

A series of those demonstrations have been held in Idlib, in areas where residents have suffered from the brutality of ISIS and of Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate. Despite their bitter experiences, Idlib residents stood up to oppose the military strikes targeting those groups.

To understand why requires a close look at the view from the ground. Kafr Nabl, a town located in the Idlib countryside, was made famous in the early days of the uprising for its civic engagement and democratic spirit. Its banners and caricatures that satirized Syria's bleak political situation found a global following on Facebook and other Internet sites.

On Sept. 26, Kafr Nabl residents demonstrated against the U.S.-led strikes, using banners that read, "Civilians Don't Need Any More International Murderers." The biggest surprise was when protesters held a sizeable Jabhat al-Nusra flag during the demonstration, a rare sign of support for the al-Qaeda affiliate in what has been considered a moderate area of Syria. Even Syrians were surprised by this turn of events.

Mahmoud, 31, teaches art to elementary students in Kafr Nabl. He says that he participated in the protests out of personal frustration, feeling that the world didn't pay attention to all the bloodshed in Syria until a handful of Americans and Europeans were killed.

"We're being killed on a daily basis, and we begged the world to help us, but they didn't give us any support," Mahmoud says. "Now that one American citizen is killed, the U.S. turned to its fleets."

As Mahmoud speaks, tears run down his face. "Is James Foley's blood considered blood, but the blood of our children and youth is considered water? Why have they constantly ignored our deaths over the last four years? More than 1,000 young men from al-Shiaytat a Syrian tribe were murdered in cold blood by ISIS in Deir ez-Zor. Why didn't the world intervene then? More than 1,400 people were killed by the chemical attack. What did Mr. Obama do? Let him leave us be. We don't want anything from him."

Just as Mahmoud finishes his sentence, the sound of a regime helicopter zips overhead, in an attack of two barrels bombs on the town.

"We don't know who's bombing us anymore," he says. "There are way too many airplanes in the sky. It seems as if they need a traffic police officer to coordinate their flights."

"Why now?"

Another local man named Abou Qutayba agrees with Mahmoud. The 51-year-old farmer from Ma’aret Masreen in the Idlib countryside expresses similar concerns.

"Why now?" he asks. "There is no use fighting ISIS. They have become a reality. If you cut off Assad"s head, then ISIS will wither and die on its own."

He rides his bicycle home, unaware that those words would be his last: He died the same day during an air raid that targeted his village. His statement was not shared out of pretension or with political prowess. They were merely the questions of a farmer.

Abu al-Miqdad, a young man in his late 20s, sees the U.S.-led coalition as simply "the world's way to wage a new war against Islam, this time with the help of Muslim states," referring to the five Arab countries launching strikes on Syria.

"The world doesn't want any country to be ruled by Islamic law," he says. "That's why they've destroyed Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. Today it's Syria."

He then asks rhetorically, "Why weren't the Shia militias considered terrorist groups? Why hasn't the coalition bombed Hezbollah and the Abu al-Fadhal al-Abbas brigade? It's obvious. It's a war against Sunni Islam and a way to resuscitate the Assad regime."

Abu Ahmad, 26, a rebel fighter who's stationed in northern Syria, explains how Syrians shifted position on the coalition strike once it began.

"The residents of Ma’arat Masreen were hoping the coalition military operations would begin," Ahmad says. "They were wishing they would be an alliance against Assad so as to tackle the main cause of terrorism and not the outcome of it."

But how, he asks, does the world expect Syrians to believe that the U.S.-led actions are meant to protect them from terrorism when the first missile fired in northern Idlib killed 13 civilians, including children?

"The Americans must be more careful while launching their next strikes," he says. "Syrians can no longer bear death. Any civilian causalities will empower ISIS and boost its popularity."

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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