This Week in Oppressive Government Violence: July 21, 2013

War continues in Syria, and new UN Ambassador-designate Samantha Power IS ON IT, protests (and police/military brutality) continue in Turkey and Egypt, and paramilitaries attack an Islamic school in Kashmir, then kill a bunch of protesters, so naturally the Indian government cracks down…on the protesters. That’s all after the jump.

Syria: Fighting rages on between President-for-life Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the rebels hoping to topple him, with the majority of the Syrian population being ground up between them. The UN was prompted to declare Syria the worst crisis the world has seen since Rwanda, and we all know how well the west responded to Rwanda, right? This is awful stuff: at least 93,000 killed since 2011, 5000 new deaths every month, an incredible 6000 new refugees every day. 4.8 million Syrians are internally displaced and 6.8 million are in “need urgent humanitarian assistance.” This is a war whose effects are falling hardest on people who never wanted to fight in the first place, on either side. Another UN envoy warned of the degree to which children are suffering from the conflict, and of the risk that those children will be radicalized by that suffering. Meanwhile Assad is still executing rebels or suspected rebels and has kept up his air campaign against rebel-held towns, causing yet more civilian casualties (just today 20 civilians were reportedly killed in a government mortar strike on the biggest market in the northern town of Ariha, and around 50 rebels were killed in a government ambush in the Damascus suburbs, while fighting also raged around the Aleppo airport). In case this all seems too upbeat, Syria’s Kurdish population is entering the fight against the rebels, albeit not exactly on Assad’s side either. Assad made a strategic gamble in 2012 by pulling out of Kurdish areas, hoping to keep the Kurds out of the fight at a minimum, and with any luck to get them to fight against the rebels in defense of their now-autonomous territory. That move seems to be paying off.

Here in Amercia, our new UN Ambassador-designate, Samantha Power, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in her confirmation hearing that “[w]e see the failure of the U.N. Security Council to respond to the slaughter in Syria–a disgrace that history will judge harshly.” I agree. Massacres like this are simply beyond the pale, and international institutions should respond accordingly:

After their abject defeat on the hands of the Syrian army and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah in the central strategic city of al-Qussair near the Lebanese border, the radical Sunni rebels on Wednesday stormed a Shiite village in eastern Syria, killing 60 villagers and burning out their homes, Xinhua reports.

Oh wait, sorry, that particular massacre was perpetrated by Syrian Sunnis, the folks we’re supposed to be arming, against an Alawite village, and I must have forgotten that it’s only a Bad, Evil Slaughter if Assad’s guys do it. Power continued, “I don’t know that I can recall a leader who has, in a way, written a new playbook for brutality in terms of the range of grotesque tactics that the Assad regime has employed in response to a democratic uprising,” which, first of all, who said anything about a “democratic uprising”? There was an uprising, yes, and Assad’s response to it was brutal and indefensible, but at this point characterizing a movement whose most effective fighters are allied with al-Qaeda as a “democratic uprising” strains credibility to say the least. And second of all, in what sense are all these casualties and refugees being created just by Assad? Notice how the UN talks about the Syrian crisis without putting all the blame for it on Assad? That’s because the Syrian crisis is a civil war, not a genocide, and there have to be at least two sides actively engaged in open hostilities to fight a civil war. The best outcome in Syria at this point may well be a quick end to the fighting, or at least a lengthy cease-fire, so that the civilian population, who are going to be royally screwed whether the current authoritarian shit wins or the wanna-be authoritarian shits win, can get out of the crossfire.

Egypt: The country’s new, undemocratically-appointed democratic government, the one that is deeply committed to civilian rule and democracy, keeps either killing supporters of former-President Morsi or helplessly standing by while the military kills them, which is a great victory for democratic civilian governance either way. Seven protesters in Cairo were killed in clashes with police on Wednesday, and at least three were killed on Saturday in the town of Mansoura in the Nile Delta. That makes roughly 100 killed since the military the totally-not-military-whatever-it-is took power. Al-Jazeera claims that its stations are being intermittently taken off air in Egypt, which makes sense from a realpolitik perspective given Qatar’s open support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, but is not exactly a sign that the new/old government is planning on transitioning to an open, democratic society anytime soon.

Turkey: I realize this gets repetitive, but Turkish police continue to use tear gas and water cannons against protesters in Istanbul. This time protesters were attempting to regain access to Gezi Park, which the Turkish government somewhat mercurially keeps granting and then revoking. I gather that the Erdoğan government is just hoping to run out the clock by preventing protesters from assembling in large crowds, thereby keeping the protests small, and he’s probably relying on other situations in the region (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, maybe talks with Iran or new Israel-Palestine negotiations) to keep those small protests off front pages worldwide. I’m sure he’s observed what happened to Morsi and has decided that he has to prevent large-scale protests or risk the Turkish military, which has a bit of a history of such things, from getting involved. Is that really going to work?

India: On Wednesday, armed paramilitaries from India’s “Border Security Force” assaulted the caretaker of a madrasah in Kashmir and then tore a copy of the Qur’an to pieces and stomped on the remains. By Thursday morning, a crowd of hundreds had gathered at the madrasah in protest, demanding that the BSF fighters be arrested, and as talks were ongoing between the head of the madrasah and the deputy commissioner of the region, the BSF took it upon itself to fire live ammunition into the crowd. The police, as you might expect, arrived and sided with the people shooting at the unarmed crowd, rather than the unarmed crowd, and the police and BSF together killed 4 protesters and injured more than 40. India’s home minister is “investigating” the incident and, meanwhile, imposed a curfew on Kashmir and neighboring Jammu, because clearly the problem here was that the residents of the region were just too proactive for their own good. This well-conceived solution seems to have shockingly failed, and clashes between protesters and police have continued, with police employing tear gas, batons, and “warning shots of live ammunition” (what could go wrong?) to try to injure as many people as possible control the crowds.

Additional reports are always welcome in comments.


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