Adrian Hamilton: We're worrying about Syria for all the wrong reasons

 

Share

The intensifying civil war in Syria has set off a storm of anguish over the ramifications for the region. There's not a television report or political speech that doesn't harp on about the danger of sectarian conflict spreading to adjoining countries.

Would that this were an expression of humanitarian concern about the flood of refugees crossing the borders into Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. But it isn't. What seems to concern the politicians, as the pundits, is the impact on the power balance in the Middle East.

It's a concern that wasn't, it should be said, voiced when the fight against Russian occupation of Afghanistan and the consequent civil war there drove millions into neighbouring Iran and Pakistan. Iran at one time had to cope with some two million refugees in camps. It still has something like a million. But no one then voiced concern at what Afghanistan would do to the region, although the impact on Pakistan was particularly unsettling.

So why the concern with Syria now? Is this a reflection of the sense of helplessness that the West faces in this conflict? Or does it presage intervention on the grounds of security beyond Syria's borders? Perhaps both. But it has led to troubling assumptions both about the likely sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia in the region and the course of events in Syria itself.

The best conclusion now, pronounced Professor Michael Clarke, head of the Royal United Services Institute this week, would be for President Assad to be removed in a coup that would leave the basic system intact. So much then for the hopes of democracy. Syrian protesters, like their fellow-protesters throughout the Arab Spring, rise up to end a system of political suppression and commercial kleptocracy and all we can say is that the ruler might have to go but the regime should stay.

It's a view, it has to be said, that one hears more and more in Egypt, where the army has offered up President Mubarak but wants to keep the old ways and its own position for the future. Likewise in Bahrain, when the forces of Saudi Arabia were brought in to suppress a revolt by the majority. It's a view usually accompanied by the spectre of fundamentalism among the Islamic groups at the forefront of change.

The West has always used security as an excuse for supporting authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and one's fear is that it is about to do the same now in Syria and elsewhere. The preoccupation with Sunni-Shia confrontation and the threat behind the Muslim Brotherhood is just part of it. In so far as it is true it is something that has been deliberately promoted by the US and Israel, along with Britain, to further the isolation of Iran that they seek as a primary aim of policy.

If there was really such a conflict, Iraq, a Shia country, would be intervening to support Assad and the Alawites against the Sunni majority. Instead they are doing – in so far as they are doing anything – the opposite. Even Turkey, a traditionally secular country with an Islamic government, is supposed to be thinking on these lines.

It isn't. Turkey's interests, as with Iraq's and Iran's, are basically political not religious. The Iranians, an Aryan people, have always had difficulties with their Arab neighbour of whatever their political hue. They feel beleaguered by Western hostility and Gulf hatreds but, in practical terms, they have done remarkably little to intervene in the Syrian conflict any more than the Bahraini one closer to home.

The Syria of the Assad family was a close ally, not for theological reasons but because it supported them in their confrontations with the West. In the same way, Iraq is far too weak to throw its weight around in any directions. Turkey, which is undoubtedly assertive, wants to become a power broker in the Middle East not a participant in religious conflict.

Of course, the Syrian conflict has ramifications outside. What matters, or should matter, at this time is the quarter of a million people fleeing the fighting abroad and an estimated million-and-a-half displaced at home. We should be concentrating our efforts at helping them – not worrying ourselves with regional nightmares of our own imagining.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam