Why we must eliminate ISIL and remove Assad

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died and with millions more as refugees, it is time to bring the suffering to an end, writes Peter Hellyer

An airstrike carried out by Russia's air force on an ISIL training camp in Aleppo. Reuters
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As the Syrian conflict has unfolded, I’ve reached deep into my vocabulary to express my horror as the suffering has grown.

Barrel bombings from Bashar Al Assad wreaking devastation indiscriminately on civilian communities; ethnic and religious cleansing by groups like ISIL and Jabhat Al Nusra that have ripped asunder a country that, for 2,000 years, has been a centre of tolerance and coexistence; the deprivation of those internally displaced or driven into exile; the selling of young women into slavery; heart-rending images of drowned children – all these and more have attracted my attention as the death toll has risen.

Some of the most disturbing brutality is that of the methods of murder being used by ISIL – decapitations, blowing up cars with captives inside, burning a Jordanian pilot, drowning caged prisoners, throwing those alleged to be gay from high buildings.

ISIL pretends that such actions are somehow based upon “justifications” drawn from a selective perversion of Islam. Their actions have, of course, long since departed from the realms of religious faith. Allied with remnants of Saddam's regime, it’s driven by a naked pursuit of power.

“Outlaws of Islam” Jordan’s King Abdullah called them a few days ago. During last week’s debate in Britain on the extension to Syria of the UK’s bombing campaign against ISIL, they were called “an evil death cult”. It is a millenarian madness, deriving sustenance from a conscious decision to trample on all attributes of humanity, to embark upon an untrammelled orgy of blood lust.

Last week, ISIL plumbed further depths of depravity, releasing a video that was widely circulated on social media. Six children, having completed a course of what purported to be “religious education” coupled with training in the use of weapons, were set loose in a ruined Syrian castle in search of the reward promised to them for their good performance in their training – the opportunity to find and to kill manacled captives. Five chose to shoot their target in the head while the other chose – or was induced – to cut the throat of the one he found.

Even apex predators in the animal kingdom rarely consume their young. Yet these children, most assuredly, have been consumed, their childhoods ripped from them, their minds corrupted by those whose behaviour is almost incomprehensible except, perhaps, to psychologists specialising in the study of the criminally insane. These children, and others like them, have had their innocence stolen, their lives destroyed.

It is little wonder that many who live under ISIL’s bloody rule are now said to be increasingly desperate to escape. Many from overseas who responded to the seductive siren calls to join them are, too, desperate to get away, having seen at first hand the real meaning of ISIL’s insane vision.

History tells us that such death cults often naturally implode, devouring themselves. That may, indeed, come to pass, in time. For those under its rule, however, for those who flee it, for those elsewhere – in Paris, Beirut, Bamako and San Bernardino – who have suffered from outbreaks of ISIL-inspired terrorism, there is not the luxury of time to wait for such an implosion.

Last week, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash noted that the UAE was ready to work closely, with boots on the ground, with other countries to destroy the control that ISIL holds over millions of people in the region. It is time, past time, that such action is taken.

It must be complemented by more humanitarian measures to help those who have fled the conflict. Concrete political steps, too, to bring an end to the spiral of bloodshed, not only eliminating ISIL but also removing Mr Al Assad, at whose door lies the ultimate responsibility for Syria’s suffering.

Hundreds of thousands have died, millions are refugees and the minds of many more children are being destroyed. It is, surely, time to bring it to an end.

Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE’s history and culture