In Syria, the threat of al-Qaeda serves to justify Bashar al-Assad's efforts to cling to power
The focus in Syria seems to have shifted from mass murder and state terrorism by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime to the group terrorism of al-Qaeda. This wrong turn has given an undeserved comfort zone to the Assad regime, which it managed to capitalize on during the failed Geneva II talks.
The pro-Assad camp, to which Russia and Iran belong, is talking about terrorist groups and how they should be eliminated before moving on to a political solution. Fair enough. But they seem to suggest that the price for fighting terrorism in Syria is that Assad remains in power.
Keeping Assad in power will not end terrorism but deepen it.
The Assad regime first tried to sell its bloody war to the Arab public by arguing that it is fighting against Israel and for the Palestinian people. Palestinians rejected this narrative and Hamas left Damascus. Nobody in the Arab world believes the regime in Damascus is fighting a noble cause. Israel appears unmoved by the argument.
Now the regime claims it is fighting against terrorism. This is meant to win over the Western public terrified by spectacle of street executions. In several interviews with the U.S. media, Assad sought to portray himself as a leader fighting against foreign fighters and terrorists. The fact, however, is that he is killing his own people by the thousands and using air strikes, barrel bombs, chemical weapons and cluster munitions against civilians. It is the prolongation of the war that is inviting foreign fighters into Syria.
Assad even tried to win over the Vatican when he sent a delegation to Pope Francis on Dec. 30, 2013 with the message that he is ready for peace talks at the Geneva II meetings.
Assad's message is: It is either me or the violent extremists and terrorists.
The reality is that Assad is fighting the terrorism that he himself created. The Syrian people do not support violent extremism or terrorism and al-Qaeda-type groups have no track record on Syrian soil.
Legitimate representatives in the Syrian opposition reject the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and similar groups, but lack the resources to fight both against them and the Assad regime. No one should expect them to create miracles in the middle of a brutal war.
There was no talk of al-Qaeda in Syria until the last year. No one was suggesting al-Qaeda-affiliated groups were posing a greater threat to peace and security than the Assad regime.
One year ago there were no al-Qaeda groups in Syria. Today, they are there, killing and dying, and causing great harm to both the political and military wings of the Syrian opposition. There is no denying that but reducing the Syrian crisis to the presence of foreign fighters is simply misleading.
The presence of al-Qaeda groups in Syria came about as a result of the failure of the international community to stop the human carnage in Syria. Terrorism, in whatever form and shape it exists in the Syrian war, seems to provide an excuse for a policy of gradual disengagement and inaction adopted currently by most Western governments.
What is worse, everybody is using the terrorism card to advance its own particular policy agenda in Syria.
Don't get me wrong. Terrorism is a real and serious problem. Groups such as ISIL and their barbaric acts of kidnappings and beheadings are horrible and harm the Syrian people's welfare more than anything else. They must be fought against.
But until and unless we acknowledge why and how this terrorist threat was allowed to fester in Syria, we will not make any progress.
Speaking to the Gulf Cooperation Council summit on Dec. 10, 2013, Ahmed Jarba, President of the Syrian National Coalition, pointed out the military and logistic support the Assad regime is giving to ISIL in a bid to defeat the uprising. A number of reports published in late 2013 and early 2014 note that the Assad regime is taking advantage of the brutal tactics of ISIL to show the world the horrors of al-Qaeda terrorism while providing support to them. The spectacle of street terrorism is used to justify an unholy war.
Beheadings, torture and similar crimes are horrible and must be stopped but so should the killing of 200,000 people with conventional and chemical weapons, the imprisonment and torture of thousands of people and the forced migration of millions of Syrians.
Threat of terrorism is not an excuse for not protecting the Syrian people.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey