Syria: A Civil War In the Making?

International activists have accused President Assad of grave crimes against humanity, stating that the regime’s response to Syrian civilians should be classified as an act of genocide. The term “genocide” has become somewhat diluted and used too freely, taking focus away from other mitigating factors. As opposed to committing genocide, President Assad is guilty of using state terrorism to maintain control of the country. The excessive use of force, the implicit intent to evoke fear in the Syrian population and the goal of furthering a political objective suggest that Syria, and President Assad, are participating in state terrorism. Irrespective of the debate surrounding the state’s ability to use terrorism, it is a politically violent crime in the pursuit of power.


Civil conflicts can arise from social, class, ethnic, religious, regional, political/civil rights disputes or economic opportunities. The danger with Syria is that the regime, the state, tribes and identity have all become intertwined. The fall of the regime could mean the fall of the state and in turn, a clash amongst people. As the ouster of Libya’s President Muammar Gadaffi showed, the slow demise of a regime brings to the forefront clashes that pit civilians against civilians, and the populace against the state.


The international community has watched in disgust as hundreds of citizens have been killed in the city of Homs over the course of a weekend. However, the international community has done little other than watch. The Arab League has promised intervention, but has been slow in its "real time" response to the accusations being leveled against President Assad. Few reporters are allowed into Syria, preventing press coverage and limiting the media circulation that can spark action in countries unaffected by events on the ground. Syrian civilians have essentially been left alone to confront the violent governmental response to their calls for social and political reform.


The regime’s excessive use of force has been met by the increasing formation of violent groups attempting to protect themselves. With reports on the ground warning of growing violent civilian factions, it has become clear that Syria is headed for civil conflict. It is only logical that civilians would begin to arm themselves for protection, but it is uncertain where such mobilization will lead. Armed civilian “troops” are now becoming more organized and are being labeled as terrorists by the Syrian government.


Academic literature has exhausted the topic of how civil war ends.  We know that manipulative intervention can only prolong conflict and that military intervention can only increase violence within the state (see Libya). What are Syria’s options? Will intervention come from the Arab League and not from outside/third party actors like the UN? Syria can serve as an example of how to intervene before civil war begins or of intervention during its early stages.  Will we allow Syria to continue on its current trajectory or will we put our “money” where our mouths are? Syrian civilians are waiting.


Submitted by Ashlie Perry


The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not represent the opinions of Rutgers University or the Division of Global Affairs.

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