All the evidence from the latest devastating chemical attack in Syria suggest the use of toxic gas. The victims showed consistent symptoms of being exposed to sarin or a similar nerve agent. But what exactly does a nerve agent do?
It disturbs the neurotransmitters by which our nerves talk to each other. Interfering with the transmission of our nerve impulses, the colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas causes involuntary muscle movement further leading to convulsion, twitching, shaking of the body, paralysis, vomiting, and eventually death. The chest tightens, vision blurs, mouth drools, nose runs, bladders evacuate themselves, conjuring our worst nightmare.
Before playing the blame game, accusing each other of this disgraceful act, arguing whether it was really sarin or not, and posing questions about the legitimacy of President Donald Trump’s unexpected offensive, let’s face a question that has been looming large in my mind -- what was the point of it?
Assad has been gaining ground ever since he got Russia’s backing. With a ceasefire brokered in and rebels fleeing the towns, government forces went on winning decisive battles and regaining lost territory. The diplomatic situation gradually inclined towards Assad’s favour as he consolidated his power.
But Assad’s supposed call to gas the rebel-held town clearly puts his impression in jeopardy, and threatens all the progress he has made so far. Now, at this stage, knowing such an act can be extremely counter-productive, and can cost him his chair, which he has been desperately holding on to, why would Assad risk it all, outraging the world, killing scores of civilians including children? Or did he get framed? The apparent strategic irrationality of this carnage by Assad left me to wonder why.
Damascus rejected the accusation claiming it had destroyed its chemical reservoir following an international agreement after the deadly attack in 2013. Then who should we blame? Who has been supplying all these chemicals?
The history of using chemicals as weapons is not something new. Assad’s regime has been constantly accused of using it since the civil war started. The first confirmed use of the banned deadly nerve agent sarin had killed more than 5,000 people when the Kurdish town of Halabja was bombed by the Iraqi aircraft on March 16, 1988. Saddam Hussein was the commander-in-chief.
The second largest case of casualties caused by sarin gas involves Assad’s government, which was strongly convicted of using it in the Ghouta chemical attack during the Syrian civil war in 2013. The US government’s report of the attack put the figure at 1,429 dead, including 426 children. The investigation conducted by the UN confirmed “clear and convincing evidence” of the use of sarin gas. Reports by UNHRC mentioned that “the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military.” Yet, all of the reports failed to conclude who the real perpetrator was.
Astonishing? Not to me. The first casualty of any war is truth. The Syrian war has been a major geo-political strategy, and thus any fabrication of the truth is to be expected; and so reports, more often than not, resort to obfuscation.
The attack, which killed more than 70 innocent civilians including children, was called an “affront to humanity” by Donald Trump. His envoy, Nikki Haley, who chaired the latest Security Council meeting, showed up with horrific images of the attack and blamed the Assad regime and its major ally, Russia.
The US wants to save the people of Syria by intervening in the country, but they don’t seem to be interested in saving the Syrians who are trying to migrate to the US
Even before any investigation was launched or evidence showed up, Italian politician Federica Mogherini (also the EU diplomatic chief) directly condemned the Assad regime and its allies. The Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu joined in on the condemnation, along with Amnesty International.
Ambassador Nikki Haley was furious in the UNSC emergency meeting, saying a consistent failure of UN acting collectively will make the US “compelled” to take its own unilateral decision. Seems brave enough.
America has already launched its first direct attack against the Assad regime since the civil war started back in 2011.
Let’s not forget, it’s the chemical attack in 2013 that brought the US air power into the conflict. The very clear demonstration that President Trump is now willing to use will change the game in Syria, because it will make American military action look, once again, credible.
Again, we will be asked to believe for the sake of “humanity” that Syria needs an intervention or the regime needs to change.
Bashar al-Assad is a dictator, and there’s plenty of evidence to prove it. But if you are thinking that the Western superpower wants to intervene in Syria for the sake of humanity, then you should consider this point: The US wants to save the people of Syria by intervening in the country, but they don’t seem to be interested in saving the Syrians who are trying to migrate to the US, fleeing the persecution of the regime.
Trump’s dramatic attack on Syria may bag him some credit and increase his moribund approval ratings, but it leaves traces for emboldened instability across the region. As the tension rises, should the Syrians brace for one more chemical attack?
History has a number of accounts where Western propaganda proved to be framing dictators of the Middle East.
What is going to shed more innocent blood tomorrow? Will any party be held accountable?
But the underlying issue we all are missing is, amidst all of the crisis and chaos, we are letting a generation fester with anger, rage, and unimaginable hatred.
The atrocities of the war are sowing the seeds of retaliation in their tender hearts. Who are we going to blame if they choose to go on exploding themselves in one of the countries responsible for the loss of their beloved?
Muktadir Hossain is a freelance contributor.