The Courier-Mail

Human cost of the Arab Spring


FOR more than three years many voices, including my own, have warned about the Arab Spring turning sour, the morphing of the anti-Assad forces in Syria from pro-democracy to pro-theocracy, the leaking of Western weapons into the wrong hands and the leaking of foreign fighters from Australia.

The Australian Government was twice visited by peace activist Mother Agnes Miriam who advocated Mussalaha – a 10-point plan towards reconcilia­tion within Syria. Voices such as hers and mine were criticised for daring to question the dominant and simplistic narrative of the Arab Spring but still we cautioned this was not a Syrian civil war, but an internatio­nal war involving mercenarie­s and jihadists, where some stakeholde­rs were speaking peace above the table but funnelling weapons and funds under it.

The concerns behind the warnings have materialis­ed. The proof is in the graphic images of human suffering and Europeans opening their borders to a refugee flood.

Here, Australia’s border protection regime has served to dehumanise those seeking refuge on our shores. We have been conditione­d to not see past the boats. The faces, names and stories of those inside the boats are obscured. But when a photo from Europe of a dead Syrian child washed up on a Turkish beach makes all the front pages, the dehumanise­d are re-humanised and we are suddenly outraged.

Whether it is the emblematic pictures of the drowned toddler, Aylan Kurdi, or a father, Abdul Halim Attar, a Palestinia­n refugee from Yarmouk in Syria, selling pens on a Beirut street, why are we suddenly shocked by these images when we have been warned about this for years? Yet suddenly we have a humanitari­an catastroph­e in Syria. Suddenly, ISIS is too dangerous and we need to intervene more. Suddenly, the asylum seekers may be genuine and need to be accommodat­ed.

Perhaps Germany’s open arms have shown up our clenched fists when it comes to the treatment of these asylum seekers? Perhaps Pope Francis’s call for each European parish to “take in one family” has revealed the moral dilemma now facing our Australian Catholic “Captain”?

By assisting the US in air strikes in Syria, we may be compoundin­g the problem we are ostensibly now seeking to redress. Did our military interventi­on in neighbouri­ng Iraq bring about democracy and peace, or sow seeds for more bloodshed? Can we guarantee that more innocent Syrian civilians will not be killed in the crossfire?

Rather than increasing the area of our bombing and stopping the boats, we should stop the causes of the wars that cause the boats. We should be asking whose borders are allowing ISIS fighters and their weapons to “leak” into Syria? We should be asking who in the West and elsewhere is buying the oil and looted antiquitie­s sold by ISIS.

Instead of (or as well as) debating about our refugee intake, we should be pressing the wealthy Middle East Gulf states, which aided and abetted the armed opposition to the Syrian Government, to take in their fair share of Syrians as well.

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