Opinion: In Syria, I cannot remain neutral! | Opinion | DW | 16.12.2016
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Opinion: In Syria, I cannot remain neutral!

While the cities of the Western world remain astonishingly quiet in the face of the horror of Aleppo, Samir Matar, an editor with DW's Arabic Service, is outraged. No wonder: Matar himself is from Syria.

Every day I ask myself, as a journalist, to what extent I am permitted to express my own opinion in my reports. Is it permitted to do so subliminally? Is it not permitted at all? What has happened over the past few days, and has already been happening in Aleppo for weeks, has made a nonsense of this question. I can no longer remain neutral when I see how - supposedly in the fight against terrorists - civilians there are being hunted down like rabbits and bombed.

The international community, the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the big non-governmental organizations react only with regular expressions of concern, almost like a mantra. We've heard it all before: After every crime that takes place in the world, the international community declares that such a thing must never happen again. And yet it does, again and again and again. In recent decades it has happened in Srebrenica, in Rwanda and now in Syria - I am deliberately not saying Aleppo, because all over Syria the number of civilian victims in six years of civil war is devastating.

Anyone who doesn't fight for Assad is a terrorist

People are dying every day in Assad's prisons. They are dying before the eyes of the international community. The photos by the military policeman - codenamed "Caesar" - of 11,000 victims in Assad's prisons are still relevant, even though they're now three years old. After the capture of the last remaining corner of Aleppo, civilians such as activists, medical workers and members of the White Helmets are sure to raise the number of torture victims - as we know from experience with other fallen Syrian towns. Because in the eyes of Assad the ophthalmologist, everyone who doesn't back his regime is a terrorist - even his "medical colleagues," if they help or have helped people who aren't his followers.

Samir Matar

DW reporter Samir Matar

In spite of all this, I am called upon to remain neutral. To present both sides without judgement. Of course this is the right thing to do in normal, everyday journalism. But can - should - one remain objective or neutral when confronted with the Assad regime's dreadful crimes, which are taking place overtly and verifiably before the eyes of the world? We must concede the fact that our hands are tied. We must concede that we cannot prevent these dreadful crimes. And we too have to fight terror - that's true. But not by supporting another form of terrorism: that would be the biggest mistake we could make.

No, journalists may not remain neutral when confronted with crimes against humanity. No - we must objectively call attention to these crimes. We may not accept Bashar al-Assad becoming internationally socially acceptable again in spite of his abominable actions against civilians. That would make our values seem to lack credibility, indeed to appear absurd. Just as I may not remain neutral about a rape but condemn it in the most emphatic of terms, I must do the same with the crimes of Assad and the so-called "Islamic State" as I do with other crimes. The current populism cannot be combated with concessions, only with hard-won social values.

Aleppo is not the end of the war

Right now I am asking myself whether we are experiencing a new period of modern tyranny. I am loath to say yes. But if we continue to stand by and do nothing, I as a journalist must unfortunately say, quite neutrally: Yes, the free international community has betrayed the freedom of these civilians in Aleppo and Syria. Not only that - it has accepted their deaths. The reconquest of East Aleppo will not be a turning point in the civil war, as it is often described. Instead, it will just be the start of a new stage in the slaughter committed by the Assad regime and its foreign militias.

I came to Germany in 1990 for two reasons. Firstly, because I did not want to serve in the Syrian army and thereby serve Assad (the father, at that time) and his corrupt generals. Secondly, because I wanted to be able to express my opinions freely, without being arrested for doing so.

If I had remained in Syria, I would, like many of my schoolmates, have had to serve as a reservist. In order not to kill my own people, I would have had to desert long ago, and would certainly have faced the threat of torture and death. So no matter who is committing them, I cannot and I will not remain neutral in the face of the crimes against humanity in Syria!

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