Recently I find that a lot of my conversations with people I meet for the first time tends towards ISIS and their barbaric, evil methods in persecuting hostages or civilians.
I was born and raised in Syria, and helped producing The Suffering Grasses, a documentary film about the Syrian war. You can you can watch the trailer here:
I always try my best to objectively answer questions related to ISIS, though unfortunately, it is very difficult to be a 100% objective and express your views without adding some personal experience to the conversation. My views on Assad, which are visible from this trailer, no doubt come through in my opinions about ISIS.
The most recent, horrendous crime committed by ISIS was the setting of the Jordanian pilot – Moaz al-Kassasbeh – on fire, while he was still alive. The pilot was locked in a prison cell, gasoline was poured all over the cell, and then an ISIS leader ignited a torch and set the pilot on fire. This leader claimed to had lost many of his fighters in the region where the pilot was bombing. Of course, the pilot was trapped, and died in less than 30 seconds. In the video, ISIS then demolishes the cell and bury him in the same unknown location.
Many people started talking about this story on Facebook, and it was also trending on most social media sites, for example the #MoazAlKassasbeh and #JordanPilot, condemning the action. It was also immediately covered by news channels such as the BBC. Many ethnic Arabs from different nationalities also started discussing the topic. It proved divisive, with many calls of condemnation. There were some more extremist views, who were in favour of this barbaric method of killing a person, with comments: ” The pilot killed many of us and he deserves to be killed and tortured.” This views express people’s anger at pilot’s bombing in ISIS-controlled areas, which have large civilian populations: air strikes in Syria have killed 910 people between the start of the US campaign in July and mid-November, including 52 civilians and 785 ISIS fighters – according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (the report can be accessed here). I have yet to have to see any real recognition or acknowledgement of the disparity of views within the ‘Arab world’, and those geographically closer to ISIS. The media here instead seems to be lumping everyone in that region together into one group – forgetting the actions of Assad, the affects of air strikes on civilians, and the complicated histories behind these huge and varied peoples.
In my opinion, it is very difficult to look at this horrible crime in isolation of the bigger picture, which is the war in Syria and the loss of a huge number of innocent causalities. For me, it is very difficult to see people react differently to the same crime because it was committed by a different group. It was very frustrating to see the media worldwide ignore the fact that Assad’s regime burned 25 people alive in Daraya and Qadam in 09/10/2012 and you can see the pictures – which are very graphic – on Daraya Media Centre here.
This was not the first time Assad had burned innocents alive: Assad’s regime has been burning activists, doctors and others who have dared to oppose his regime. One of the earliest victims was a friend of mine who was studying medicine. He was arrested, tortured and then burned. I couldn’t find any article in English about him, but here’s his story in Arabic – you can translate in on google or ask an Arabic speaker to check its authenticity.
Moreover, nobody seems to be talking about the Syrian regime besieging Jober and other Syrian towns in which citizens are starving to death – again he was not the first one.
If we do a quick comparison between ISIS and Assad, we find that ISIS and Assad are both war criminals and have committed horrendous crimes against humanity. The key difference is the number of these crimes and the scale or reporting in the global media. According to the latest UN report, Assad is still the main reason behind the daily deaths of Syrian people. Yet, stories about Assad’s atrocities don’t make the same headlines – let alone breaking news. Burning innocent civilians alive by the Syrian regime didn’t have the same media prominence as ISIS burning this pilot alive, which was a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter.
To make myself clear, both ISIS and Assad are perpetrating similar, horrific, crimes, though the focus of the media is increasingly exclusive to ISIS rather than the Assad regime. It seems that many have forgotten that Assad is a war criminal, and a key reason why ISIS was founded: the war Assad launched against his own people displaced thousands, and so opened the country up as attractive market for extremists to move in and open training camps. They recruited those people who lost jobs and family members, whose homes and entire neighbourhoods had been destroyed, those living in makeshift camps and not able to support themselves anymore. Not only has this aided the rise of ISIS, but Assad has so far killed more people than ISIS. Until July 2014, according to a report by the UN, ISIS had killed 5,000 people, while Assad had killed more than a 150,000 people.