Thursday April 06, 2017

'Syrians are dying every single day': Why can't the conflict end?

A hospital room in Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic  chemical attack.

A hospital room in Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic chemical attack. (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)

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The most recent deadly chemical attack in Syria, producing the latest wave of shocking images from the country, has renewed a six-year-old question: why has it been so hard to bring an end to the conflict?

Even as the European Union has convened yet another conference to find some answers, critics are doubtful it will change anything.

Syrian American civil rights lawyer and journalist Alia Malek says at this point in the war, the world has become quite accustomed to the death of Syrian civilians.

Ali Malek

Journalist Alia Malek says the U.S.' lack of reaction to addressing the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria is 'at best negligent.' (Courtesy of Ali Malek)

"Syrians are dying every single day in Syria and have been for the last six years and it's a phenomena that we, you know, we start to object … every once in awhile when the methods are what becomes so utterly distasteful," she tells The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay. 

Malek,who reported on the Syrian conflict during the first three years, continues to feel connected to the devastating news out of Syria.

"I think a lot of Syrians in the diaspora, we are living our normal lives in this time zone but we always kind of have a part of our minds with what's going on over there."

So why does the violence continue in Syria?

Malek points to what she calls an effective campaign to assert the idea that the alternative to Assad is worse.

"We sort of prefer the clean-shaven, suit-wearing violence of a regime like Bashar al-Assad to the  … opaque rules of engagement that actors like ISIS carry out."

AFP_MO36U

Members of the Syrian civil defence, known as the White Helmets, search for victims amid the rubble following a reported air strike in the northwestern city of Idlib, March 15, 2017. (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)

According to Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, the recent U.S. presidential election also helped to create a distance from Syria's conflict.

"Trump was able to successfully, you know, exploit the fear of Syrian refugees, the fear of terrorism to rally public opinion around his narrative," he tells Chattopadhyay.

"Fundamentally the reason why there hasn't been I think a more serious policy with respect to Syria is because the great powers led by the United States calculated that there wasn't really a core set of interests that would merit an intervention, and now we're in a moment when everyone in the West at least, is consumed by their own internal politics."  

Nader Hashemi

Nader Hashemi says with U.S. President Trump at the helm, there's no hope for a political resolution for Syria. (Courtesy of Nader Hashemi)

Malek adds that the United State's "miscalculation" of the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria is "at best negligent.

She explains players like the U.S. negotiating with nuclear deal with Iran had some leverage to influence a path forward for Syria, but didn't play the cards they were dealt.

"It's really inexplicable, quite frankly."

Hope for a political resolution right now is questionable, according to Malek, given the current U.S. administration. 

Hashemi agrees, saying hope was lost when Hillary Clinton lost the election, a candidate he says consistently stated she would challenge the "Iranian and Russian position on Syria that could have led to a change in battlefield conditions."

Syria funeral for victims of suspected toxic gas attack

Syrians hold funeral prayers before they bury the bodies of victims of a suspected toxic chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, April 5, 2017. (Fadi Al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images)

He says Clinton could have created an environment where serious negotiations leading to some sort of just resolution to this conflict could have happened.

"But with President Trump in power, who is so closely allied with Russia in so many ways, there is no hope that you know the Russian position and the Iranian position will be challenged, and they're deeply invested in Syria," he tells Chattopadhyay.

"So they will continue to write the rules of this game and the Syrian population, and the rest of the Middle East will suffer as a consequence."

Listen to the full segment — including hearing from a Syrian-Canadian with how he's coping with the constant devastation in Syria.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry, Samira Moyheddin and Shannon Higgins.