‘Save Aleppo, save Aleppo, save Aleppo’, were the words being chanted, as hundreds of people gathered – myself included – in front of 10 Downing Street in the mildly foggy weather. As small drops of rain trickled down from the sky, one of the guest speakers compared it to the way in which chemical poisons would trickle down on innocent civilians in the streets of Aleppo at the hands of the Assad regime.
Following the developments in Eastern Aleppo, with the United Nations reporting that families were being shot in cold blood as their neighbourhoods were retaken by the Assad regime, the response of the, leaders of political parties and the Westminster establishment has been abysmal. Despite a lengthy debate in the Commons, the government’s response was cold and weak, and left most people wondering what had happened to ‘humanity’. As I sat in the public gallery throughout the debate, Boris Johnson and other members of the government failed to give a coherent answer to many of the crucial questions asked, which led to a woman of Arab decent, sitting to my right, to burst into tears.
Military action by the West in the Middle East has been far from perfect, and polling has consistently shown that Western interventions in the Middle East have led to a deep frustration within the Muslim community. Nevertheless, a pacifistic approach has not solved any problems, more than 80 per cent of the people killed by the Assad regime and its allies have been Muslim children, women and men. What was required was a truly liberal interventionist plan, one that did not shy away from removing dictators such as Assad, but one that also brought along peace, democracy and stability to the region and to the people of Syria. Activists like myself are still calling for such a plan from the West and I hope many within my community will come round to doing so, as well. One of the speakers at the protest said that she never thought that she would be looking to the West to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East post-Iraq, but that the situation was unbearable to watch, and that further Western intervention was inevitable.
There is also no doubting that one of the impacts of previous interventions – such as Iraq and Libya – is hostility towards military interventionism generally. However striking the consequences might be, the argument for liberal interventionism should not be crowded out by our previous experiences. Yes, we should learn from our mistakes, but history should also teach us that in some cases inaction has greater consequences than choosing to act. And the vote taken in 2013 by MPs is a prime example of the consequences of inaction, as Assad’s regime – accompanied by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah – execute innocent civilians in the streets of Eastern Aleppo. During the Aleppo debate in the Commons, many MPs on both sides of the chamber expressed their regret, including the former chancellor and a great deal of Labour MPs.
Many MPs and members of the public are still adamant that the government is not doing enough to drop humanitarian aid, help the rebels, who were being executed on the streets of Aleppo and stand up to Russia and Iran for their involvement in the Syrian Civil War. So the task for Theresa May and Boris Johnson now is forming a wider coalition (one that involves more European Union states) to put pressure on Russia and Iran, possibly sanctions, with the ultimate goal of removing Assad from power.
Abdiwali Duale is a member of Progress. He tweets at @AbdiwaliUK
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