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Syria | To intervene or not to intervene?


As horror stories of another massacre in Syria trickled in last week, western governments initiated their textbook game of diplomatic ping-pong. Condemnations were issued, outrage expressed and vows renewed. This has been the cycle since the war started. We hear of massacre after massacre, it makes the headlines; politicians express their disgust with Assad and all is forgotten after a few days.

But it is supposed to be different this time. Assad has apparently crossed Obama’s infamous ‘red-line’. Chemicals were definitely employed this time – well, we’re pretty sure they were. Why chemical weapons are the ‘red-line’, I don’t know – is the death of 100,000 not enough impetus?

Either way, the ‘red-line’ is crossed and the US will be taking action against Syria. President Obama has just announced his decision to intervene militarily – but he wants congressional support and will wait to see how Congress votes when it reconvenes on September 9th. It’s a smart move; politically speaking. The burden of going to war will now be shared collectively with other politicians. They either have to vote in support of Obama, or explain why they sat idly as another gas attack happened in Syria. Britain’s parliament has refused intervention; France is still deliberating over its final decision.

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So, is military intervention from the West the way forward? At one hand, after seeing this grueling war for so long, it comes as relief to see foreign aid materializing. Perhaps it will weaken Assad, bring down his regime and eventually end the bloodshed. Some action is better then no action, right? We can’t possibly just sit and watch as hundreds of children continue to die.

However, the addition of another player changes the calculus of the conflict completely and makes the outcome impossible to predict. By getting involved, the US is effectively going to war with Syria and its allies (Russia, Iran et al). This gives Syria and its allies grounds to retaliate against US and its allies; Israel and Turkey being possible targets. If this is sounding like World War I, then that’s what it might turn into – worst case scenario. However, after engaging in a bloody war for two and a half years, its unlikely Assad would retaliate to American ‘surgical strikes’ with such might. That is perhaps what Obama is counting on.

The effectiveness of such an intervention is also questionable given that its objective is not regime change; unlike in the case of Libya – rather it is to ‘punish’ Assad. War under international law is legal only in two instances – if  it’s in self-defense or if it has backing of the UN Security Council; neither of which is being fulfilled. UN’s fact-finding mission has yet to confirm with certainty that Assad employed chemical weapons on its own people. US contends this and cites its own intelligence as proof; ‘intelligence’ which has lost credibility in the public eye since the Iraq war.

Moreover, what is more reason for caution, is the history of selective US-led interventions which have been driven by self-interest; not righteous indignation. As Imam Zaid Shakir summarized in his principled stance against the Libyan intervention, America only intervenes in conflicts to suit its own foreign policy objectives. When Saddam used gas in 1988, Baghdad was not bombed as Iraq was then a US ally. No military intervention took place in Congo or Rwanda or Gaza. Israel used white phosphorus over dense populations in Operation Cast Lead.  In Robert Fisk’s opinion , Iran is what is fueling American activism this time around. As Assad’s forces are gaining strengthen, the US is inclined to intervene as a victory for Assad is a victory for Iran – and that can’t be tolerated.

Yes, I am ambivalent about an intervention – it’s hard to see if it will fuel the conflict or bring it to an end. If there is an intervention, I pray that it succeeds in stifling the brutality and bloodshed. There’s little that can be done from the outside while maintaining ‘neutrality’ in this conflict. And that is the nature of war. You helplessly sit and watch hundreds die, you burn with anguish and you cry your tears. The war ends when it ends; when one party is overcome or one accepts defeat.

Such has been the case for all wars; and this war will be no different.

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Waleed Ahmed writes on current affairs for MuslimMatters. His work has focused on Muslim minorities, human rights, culture and international conflicts. Currently based out of Montreal, he holds a Ph.D. in particle physics from McGill University. Waleed also has a keen interest in studying Arabic and French. He spends his spare time reading, playing basketball and praying for Jon Stewart to run in the next presidential election. contact: waleed dot ahmed at



  1. M.G.H

    September 1, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    How does the Syrian civilian population feel about this??

    • Tanveer Khan

      September 1, 2013 at 3:48 PM

      I was also wondering about this. I couldn’t find anything on it. Surely the people whose opinion is most important is that of the Syrians themselves? Then start building whatever you want to do on top of that.

  2. Mohammad Abdul

    September 1, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    US is not a honest broker in this conflict, it has supported dictators throughout the Middle East and it as supported Bashar al-Assad as well. The US is intervening because at the moment they have no credible alternative in Syria after Assad hence by intervening they will turn the rebels guns away from Assad and onto them and allow Assad to play the ‘I am fighting the US occupiers’ slogan hence giving legitimacy to Assad.

    Also the UN is not a honest broker, it is at the mercy of the 5 veto powers and the real reasons we have these problems in the Muslim world is because of foriegn intervention, colonialism and we must look a fesh for a new solution for the Muslim world and Syria and not go back to the old tried, tested and failed solutions.

  3. Saleem Thompkins

    September 1, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    I agree w/Muhammad Abdul, except Us is trying to prevent weapons use vs. Israel no matter who ultimately gains control in Syria. Bottom Line for USA is always Israelis. Obama is seeking secularist puppets as we speak to avert “Islamist” takeover.

  4. Mansoor Ansari

    September 1, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    No as it will cause more negative repercussion in the wider world. Let the Gulf states who spend billions in weapons take the first shot.

  5. Jon Solis

    September 1, 2013 at 5:38 PM

    Thoughts on possible American intervention in Syria:
    1)Traditionally, when there has been Western intervention in an area of the world that was at one point controlled by a colonial power, it is that colonial power that should be leading the cause for intervention. In the case of Syria, it should therefore be France which is “leading the way,” not the United States.
    2) If the US does intervene in the Syrian civil war, a “no boots on the ground policy” means drones/cruise missiles. The public needs to be prepared for the inevitable civilian casualties that will occur. One could make the argument that it will take some collateral civilian casualties in order to prevent future greater civilian casualties, but at least we should be up front and honest about it.
    3) The idea of simply throwing a few missiles into Syria to punish Assad without resulting in regime change seems rather immature. The problem right now is that Obama has boxed himself into a corner by threatening Assad if a “line” was crossed. If we successfully make the point that it was crossed and then do nothing other than wring our hands, then Obama is made to look foolish and the credibility of an American threat/promise becomes devalued.
    4) We should understand that this is becoming a proxy war. On the one hand you have Assad who has aligned himself with the Shiites, Iran and Hezbollah. On the other hand you have the rebels which are the indigent Sunnis/ anti-Assad forces that have probably mostly already been killed and the pro Saudi Sunnis who appear to have aligned themselves with Al-Qaeda operatives.
    5) From the US perspective, it is hard to figure out which group is worse to support. On the one hand, Assad is a given known, and despite his repressive policies he has reluctantly kept a truce with Israel. On the other hand, he has allowed Syria to become a conduit for weapons from Iran to Hezbollah and has aligned itself with Russia. Also, although the US has focused its anti Arab/Muslim nuclear ambition attacks on Iran, it was Assad’s Syria that allowed N. Korea to construct a nuclear facility in Syria (bombed by the Israelis). The disjointed rebels appear to have al-Qaeda friends and it is hard to believe that if they succeed that they will be much better. If they win with our help, will we accept responsibility for the Alawite bloodbath that will likely follow? Certainly there is no chance of our preventing such an event unless we have “boots on the ground.”
    6) American intervention should only occur if it is in our national interest or if the humanitarian need for intervention is so overwhelming that it has the support of the majority of the American people. In this situation, I believe that intervention is probably NOT in our national interest and a majority of Americans remain unconvinced that intervention will have the desired result.
    7) IF we do intervene, my prediction is based on my unfortunate motto in life : No good deed goes unpunished. We will get big-time blowback at some point.

  6. Hassan

    September 2, 2013 at 2:49 AM

    Why can’t muslims countries take care of the situation? They have enough weapons, money and armies.

    On the other hand, if people of Syria cannot win right now against the government and its forces, why they are making it difficult for themselves and ordinary people.

  7. Saeed Khan

    September 2, 2013 at 10:12 AM

    O Muslims in Syria ash-Sham and other Muslim countries:

    America is the head of evil in the world; it is the worst enemy of the Muslims! America is now on the verge of committing massacres in Syria that will not be less than those committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you will see that they will assume the mission of mass murder against Muslims from Bashar, and with it will come an international mandate to kill, they will impose a secular constitution and agent rulers upon you. Today the same America is the weakest it has ever been in the region, it is threatened with loss of influence in the region. America is unable to stabilize the political situation through its clients in Egypt and Syria and it has made its bitter experience with the Muslims. Now they claim that they do not want to occupy Syria, just as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather America wants to impose its political agenda so as to achieve its interests without occupation. It is this America that loves to announce its refusal of intervention and fighting, and anyone who demands this is a traitor to his Deen and his Ummah. America came to save its interests and its agent Bashar who they still considered president, and will work to secure a safe exit for him, his family and his aides. It is this America that is an enemy to you so take it for what it is! Unmask its agents with the strongest and clearest of words! All of the murder, torture, displacement, hunger, humiliation and arrest you have suffered. It will not be compensated except by raising the word of Allah on earth. It is this America that has let loose its henchmen on you and it wants to drag the world into the war against you and your Deen, and it will repeat this cycle over and over again.

    Not one of you are excused for remaining silent for their intended crime, you are obliged to prohibit it!

    Oh Muslims in Syria ash-Sham and other Muslim countries:

    Allah’s commands and prohibitions must be the measures of our actions. Allah has enjoined on the Muslims to embrace the Islamic project based on the establishment of a Khilafah state. Look around you, is there any project that brings together the Muslims and unites them apart from this project and that will enable you to stand in the face of the American project?! Is it without Allah that you could overcome the masses of Kufr, no matter how great they are? So be with Allah for He will be with you, and give victory to His Deen for He will give you victory. We call you to this great obligation that is most strongly fought by America, the West, the nations of the world and the rulers of the Muslims and the secularists. But Allah is the One who takes care of His affairs, for He سبحانه وتعالى said:

    أُذِنَ لِلَّذِينَ يُقَاتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمْ ظُلِمُوا وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَى نَصْرِهِمْ لَقَدِيرٌ * الَّذِينَ أُخْرِجُوا مِنْ دِيَارِهِمْ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ إِلَّا أَنْ يَقُولُوا رَبُّنَا اللَّهُ وَلَوْلَا دَفْعُ اللَّهِ النَّاسَ بَعْضَهُمْ بِبَعْضٍ لَهُدِّمَتْ صَوَامِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَصَلَوَاتٌ وَمَسَاجِدُ يُذْكَرُ فِيهَا اسْمُ اللَّهِ كَثِيرًا وَلَيَنْصُرَنَّ اللَّهُ مَنْ يَنْصُرُهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَقَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ * الَّذِينَ إِنْ مَكَّنَّاهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ أَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ وَأَمَرُوا بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَنَهَوْا عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَلِلَّهِ عَاقِبَةُ الْأُمُورِ

    “Permission to fight is given to those who are fought against because they have been wronged – truly Allah has the power to come to their support – those who were expelled from their homes without any right, merely for saying, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ if Allah had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where Allah’s name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed. Allah will certainly help those who help Him – Allah is All-Strong, Almighty” (Al-Hajj, 22:39-40)

    • markibnmark

      September 3, 2013 at 11:27 PM

      @Saeed Khan

      When you speak of the establishment of the “Khilafah state”, it makes me wonder if you recall that during the time of overt European colonialism in the Muslim lands, the existence of the Ottoman Caliphate did little to save the Ummah from being humiliated and conquered. In fact, the Ottoman Empire eventually became so weakened, that it was dissolved altogether and replaced by a harsh secular regime. Also, throughout Muslim history, there have been parallel claims to the Caliphate in different regions. For a time, even the Shia claimed this position.

      What makes you think that a system of government is the most important thing when the Muslims today are trapped in sin, ignorance, and corruption? It is our hearts that need purification before we can seriously implement a just political system. How can we really establish such a system when we are so astray? We had a Caliphate. We sometimes had many of them. But, they were destroyed because our hearts had become blackened and hardened, and we collectively went astray. I believe the key to moving towards a government in the tradition of the Prophet’s (SAW) is to return to our religion en masse, not marching in the streets chanting slogans or Leninist-style upheaval.

      You speak of America, but define the “America” you speak of. In reality, it is a small group of elites that control all aspects of the media, military, and monetary system. Most Americans are clueless and powerless to how things really work, and are shielded from the damage that U.S. foreign policy causes.

      I just would like to see more Sunnah and less sloganeering on the part of my fellow Muslims worldwide. May Allah guide us all.

  8. azmathmoosa

    September 2, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    I think we shouldn’t forget that US doesn’t care about humanitarian loss. This whole red-line thing is a big nonsense. Iran is the last anti-US stronghold left in the middle-east and the west has for long tried very very hard to get into a fight with it but has failed so far. Syria and Iran have a mutual defense agreement which means, if US attacks Syria, IRAN will be dragged into war along with it. And that would be jackpot for US, Israel and their cronies.

    So Pls, as desperately as we all want Assad to be punished, it shouldn’t be the Americans who should do it.

    I don’t agree with everything this video has to say but still, its worth a watch

  9. Kalim Siddiqui

    September 3, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    poorly written article by someone who has very minimal understanding of the situation


    September 4, 2013 at 12:25 AM

    This article sums up the reason why I’m against American intervention in Syria:

  11. Omar

    September 4, 2013 at 2:57 AM

    The reason America will intervene in Syria is not for the sake of Syria and it’s people but to counter Iran which enjoys support from Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Taking control of Syria would mean breaking the “Shiite crescent”. America has control over Sunni countries like Egypt and all the Gulf countries and would further its control over the Middle East by removing the Assad regime and replacing it with something more compliant. The trouble for America is that it is hard to control the aftermath of an invasion. Some would say they lost control of Iraq after invading it and now have to live with an Iran-friendly regime there.
    As for Muslims, we need to get over the Shia-Sunni conflict and realize that neither side is going to disappear and we have to co-exist and so long as we fight each other we will be easy prey for others. Imagine if Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and the Egypt of two months ago were all on the same side … Then we could finally invade Saudi Arabia and bring Islam there, ha ha.
    But after viewing how Arab-Muslims in Egypt and Syria behaved in the last few months and their blatant disregard for human dignity I think we are nowhere near being able to take care of our own problems.

  12. Greg Abdul

    September 4, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    as salaam alaikum,
    we are America. It is not in our nature to sit idly by while innocent people are slaughtered. It has happened and we anguish over it and our history tells us it is wrong. Because Assad has so much backing everyone is hesitating. This chemical weapons thing is a red herring for the US to finally do what it was supposed to do all along. There has to be a change in the Arab world though. Part of Western reluctance to come to rescue is what is happening in Egypt. Those guys have got to quit the brutal police state tactics.

    • Jon Solis

      September 5, 2013 at 8:38 AM

      When the Tutsis were slaughtered by the Hutus in Rwanda, the US sat idly by. When the Cambodians slaughtered the Hmong, the US sat idly by. While the civilians are being slaughtered in Darfur, the US sat idly by. While the Nigerians slaughtered the Ibos, the US sat idly by. It is in our nature to become involved when it is in our national interest. The question thus becomes, it is in the American national interest to become involved? A stable Yugoslavian division was in our national interest, so we became involved in Bosnia/Kosovo (please note this was to save a mostly Muslim majority population). In the Syrian civil war it is VERY questionable which side is the hopeful victor in terms of American interest. We can support Syria which is allied with the Hezbollah/Iranian Shiites or we can support the mostly Sunni rebels who apparently are unwilling to reject support from al-Queda operatives. This is a lose-lose situation for the U.S. A medical motto is “First do no harm.” That is what we should do here. Stay out.

  13. AlYemenie

    September 4, 2013 at 6:41 PM

    On the other hand, if people of Syria cannot win right now against the government and its forces, why they are making it difficult for themselves and ordinary people.

    To answer your question, it is simply because they are funded. Those who fight against Assad are groups that do not have a common goal apart from wanting to topple Assad and cause chaos. Some men fight for money and are mere mercenaries. Many are fools that have no understanding of what is going on and are used like pawns. Others still are motivated by hate. And finally, many are just caught up in the moment and are unable to get out and are afraid.

    Biggest Terrorist in the world is NATO, followed closely by the Muslim Freedom Fighters who ally themselves with anything and anyone, motivated mainly by hatred to individual, sects, democracy or Khalifah by the sword. What are they fighting for? Chaos it seems. Oddly they do not fear their sins as they slaughter Muslims and non-Muslims civilians alike. It seems they think they can win by making mountains of bodies and random suicide bombings in markets. With brothers like these who needs enemies.

    May Allah guide them. Some are hypocrites and kufar, but most are our Muslim brothers who are just caught up in this stupid endeavour who’s goal is what? Democracy? Are they really killing for democracy? And if they win, would that make the country better? They’ve destroyed huge segments of the country and its industry. And as soon as they win many would become nothing more than parasites on the nation. Look at Libya where organised militia vying for power, while the country is being raped again by the West. And who are the ones representing these fighters? Nothing but western puppets.

    Back to the article. It is badly written political article, which is a recurring theme in MM.

    Shame on the Muslims, falling for the same trick over and over again. This site has repeatedly written supportive articles for American intervention.

    “O ye who believe! Take not for awliyaa unbelievers rather than believers: Do ye wish to offer God an open proof against yourselves?”

    That should be more than enough for us. If you need further evidence look at recent history. USA does give on iota about foreign lives, esp Muslims. And the rest of the “West” is no better.

    May Allah guide the Muslims in Syria and everywhere else.

  14. Agboola

    September 8, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    more to it thann the ordinary eye!

  15. Nadiyah

    September 13, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    Bismillah…NO. Alll things are in the Hands of the Creator. Though there isn’t any doubt chemical weapons were released, there appears to be some vague doubt as to who released them. This may be the trigger to WWIII; Gog & Magog…Russia. Atomic bomb on the horizon? Dajal

  16. syed moeen uddin

    December 29, 2013 at 10:03 AM

    We good message I got from this article .i appreciate the effort made by author. Islam is the religion of peace. i gives the message of peace .it is the symbol of peace. Islam means peace. But some people has changed this meaning of Islam and trying to create a new society based on the true teachings of Islam but in reality, it is not possible. we are not allowed to change the minds of people with power and authority. May Allah give you more strength to write the article. an excellent approach I say.

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