The West Is Killing Syrians Trapped Under The Rubble
Humanitarian issues should in theory never be politicized, both the health and safety of those innocents who suffer through natural disasters should not be placed in the firing line of political feuds.
Western sanctions not only set up Syria for a double-disaster in robbing the country of the ability to deal with the horrifying 7.8 magnitude earthquake, but continues to ensure that Syrian civilians die unnecessarily. All the while the West pretends to be acting on behalf of a humanitarian impulse in Turkiye, one that clearly doesn’t extend outside the borders of its NATO ally, despite temporary amendments to the sanctions.
Humanitarian issues should in theory never be politicized, both the health and safety of those innocents who suffer through natural disasters should not be placed in the firing line of political feuds. Serving as a telling indicator of its character is the commonly themed language in Western nations, including rhetoric of self idealization, a somewhat consistent theme throughout the history of empire. However, in the case of what is today known as “the West”; that is to say Western Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and “Israel”, we see something quite different.
The West is defined as the “civilized world”, “the free world”, or as the European Union’s foreign secretary Joseph Borrell puts it, “the garden”. The most powerful player in the “civilized world” is the United States of America, hence when its new President is crowned, they are given the title of “the leader of the free world”. When looking at the devastation caused across southern Turkiye and northern Syria, we must keep these concepts of the West’s self image in mind, because they provide key context to the blatant discrimination against Syrian civilians who were victimized by the recent earthquake.
For years experts at the United Nations have been sounding the alarm-bells about the humanitarian repercussions of the West’s sanctions, dating back to 2020, just after the imposition of the US Trump administration's “Caesar Act” sanctions against Syria. Last year, UN Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights, Alena Douhan, called on the West to immediately drop its sanctions, explaining that “with more than half of the vital infrastructure either completely destroyed or severely damaged, the imposition of unilateral sanctions on key economic sectors, including oil, gas, electricity, trade, construction, and engineering have quashed national income, and undermine efforts towards economic recovery and reconstruction.”
The statement issued by UN expert, Alena Douhan, clearly tied the spread of largely preventable diseases inside Syria - the most worrying of which is currently the country’s cholera epidemic - to the sanctions restrictions on the Syrian government's ability to refurbish and re-establish clean water systems. Furthermore, the sanctions directly target reconstruction inside Syria, which also has an effect on the ability of Syrian provinces to refurbish buildings and hence almost certainly played a role in the scale of the destruction inside government held areas of northern Syria. Then we have the sanctions effect on the electrical supply, which is only capable of providing Syrians with a few hours of electricity per day, in addition to this there is a lack of fuel, meaning that in these times transporting aid to those in need is also hindered. Syrian civilians who were made homeless due to the earthquake are also having to put up with subzero temperatures at night time, which took its own toll.
Knowing all of this, in addition to the West understanding that despite their sanctions not technically preventing aid from being delivered, in reality, the sanctions directly impacted aid transfer. There has only been one border crossing into Syria which has received the UN mandate to be used. That border crossing zone is known as Bab al-Hawa and leads directly into territory that is occupied by Turkey and below it the terrorist organization known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, well known for its affiliations with al-Qaeda. Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed out, in January of 2022, a “lack of sufficient safeguards in procurement practices by UN agencies providing aid in Syria has resulted in a serious risk of financing abusive entities”, further calling into question the efficacy of aid transfer. The Bab al-Hawa crossing was also damaged by the earthquake and was effectively blocked off from receiving any aid for the first three days after the natural disaster struck.
The US military, along with its proxy force in north eastern Syria, also happens to be illegally occupying a third of the country’s territory and included in that territory are Syria’s oil and gas rich ‘al-Omar fields’, in addition to the nations' most fertile agricultural lands. The crisis is deepened by the fact that Syria was already in crisis, that its medical sector was already overburdened and was so far undermined, as a result of Western sanctions, that there was no way for it to stand up to properly deal with the current crisis. The technical equipment needed to rescue potential survivors under the rubble was also either in low stock, or not allowed into the country, compounding problems further.
Then we have the open calls from the Syrian government to the European Union, requesting help in its time of need, which was completely shunned at first. This, along with the US government, that occupies Syrian land illegally and sanctions Syria, was quick to announce that it would not even contact Damascus. It must be made clear, the West not only snubbed Syria and has proven that it is prepared to ignore Syrian suffering, the West was actively letting Syrians die even after the government reached out for help.
What has been the reaction of the Western media to this blatant disregard for Syrian lives and the criminal anti-humanitarian practices of their governments? Part of it was for the darling of the West’s “freedom of speech” media, Charlie Hebdo, to publish a piece in which they openly mocked those killed in the earthquake, joking about not needing tanks to do the job that the natural disaster did. In the Western world, media outlets and pundits who openly spew hatred towards the Muslim and Arab world are defended for their “freedom of speech”, whilst Russian and Iranian media are banned in the name of security, so too is Julian Assange held in a cell to rot for exposing war crimes committed by Western governments.
All of this has to be traced back to the Western supremacist way of thinking, the ideology that preaches about humanitarianism, freedom of speech and a number of other virtues which Westerners will claim to hold true, but on the other hand refuses to apply any of these moral standards to outsiders. This is because for those who are indoctrinated into the mindset of Western liberalism, anyone who violates the supremacist self-lauding code, challenging the “us over them” mentality, they constitute the outsider. This is why allowing the West to describe itself as the “free world” and/or “civilized world” must be challenged, because according to this framing, it instantly creates the opposite to the West as being barbaric, oppressive and uncivilized, which are the depictions created of all the Western governments enemies. Although the Western regimes will never openly admit to being racist supremacists, this is what inherently underpins their worldview and allows for them to dictate who should be considered as worthy of being granted aid, who can resist tyranny and establish independent nations. The deaths of Syrians who could have been saved by the aid of the West are all on the hands of the complicit regimes that claim to be “free” and “civilized”, but instead clearly have very different definitions for these terms than we will find in any dictionary.
Despite temporary amendments to the US sanctions on Syria, which will somewhat ease the humanitarian crisis, they are simply not enough and constitute a too little too late approach. If these sanctions would have been lifted after repeated calls from experts at the UN to do so, Damascus could have been in a position to save many more lives. The sanctions should have been lifted from the moment the earthquake struck, but Washington decided to play politics for days whilst people suffocated and froze to death under the rubble. What this horrific natural disaster has served to do, is exemplify the effects on the civilian population who suffer under them, just as we saw with the hundreds of thousands killed by US sanctions on Iraq after the first Gulf war. Getting aid to Syria is still an issue and the amendment to the sanctions is a start, but the shunning of the Syrian people continues nonetheless, whilst there are no calls for Western accountability in exacerbating the crisis, due to the effects of the sanctions that set Syria up for a double-tragedy.