A few years ago, ISIS made itself known to the world when they took control of large portions of Iraq. From that point onwards, the world became obsessed with ISIS. Whenever Syria is brought up in the media and in conversations, “ISIS” follows shortly thereafter. Rarely is Syria’s largest threat paid attention to: the Assad regime.
The world loves to watch groups commit terror in the name of Islam. But when a government commits the same atrocities at significantly higher rates, we ignore it. With the amount of attention ISIS gets in the media, it would be easy to assume that they are solely responsible for all the violence in Syria. This is far from true.
To understand this, we must remember the origins of the Syrian revolution. In 2011, uprisings occurred across the Middle East, calling for the removal of dictators. As a result, Syria began their revolution that year in the name of peace and freedom, calling for Assad to step down. People often forget that ISIS was barely known in 2011. In fact, ISIS was then known as ISI and had absolutely no presence in Syria.
The civil war is approaching its sixth year now, and the world is still distracted by the ISIS escapade. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has been tracking the groups responsible for civilian causalities since the start of the civil war (including the Assad regime, ISIS, Rebel forces, Russia, and unknown others). From March 2011 to March 2016, SNHR found that the Assad Regime accounted for 95 percent of killings of innocent civilians in Syria. ISIS accounted for a mere 1.1 percent. The Assad regime is also responsible for 99.5 percent of tortures that have led to deaths in Syria. ISIS only accounted for 0.2 percent. Since the start of the conflict, according to the non-governmental organization Physicians for Human Rights, the Regime has shot, bombed, tortured, and executed over 750 medical workers. In contrast, ISIS and other groups have killed 27.
It is extremely clear that the Assad regime is Syria’s biggest threat. Last month, the Assad regime took back control of Aleppo from Rebel Forces. ISIS has never been present in the city of Aleppo, nor has it been in the Syrian cities of Damascus, Homs, Hama or Latakia. A week before Assad took back Aleppo, the UN Security Council got together in an attempt to call for a cease-fire. This cease-fire would have allowed civilians to evacuate before the battle between the regime and the rebel forces began. In yet another display of the UN Security Council’s inadequacy, both Russia and China vetoed the proposal. Thus, hundreds of civilians were slaughtered that week.
Last month should have been a wakeup call. Last month should have shown the world what the Assad regime, Russia, and its allies are capable of doing. The world has spent the last few years paying far too little attention to the atrocities that the Assad regime has carried out. These atrocities should bring him and his allies to the International Criminal Court. Instead, we occasionally hear that the UN “condemns” these actions, but not much more. Condemnation is useless without action. We watched Aleppo in horror for a few moments, and then continued to focus most of our attention on ISIS.
The vast majority of Syrian refugees are escaping from their ruthless dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Rather than recognize Assad’s brutality, the world views Syria as a place where ISIS is flourishing and is solely responsible for the refugee crisis. We must recognize the fact that Syrians came together in 2011 to call for an end of ruthless dictatorship. They said ‘no more,’ and were literally shot down.
In Syria, the revolution continues. A week before the regime took Aleppo, Syrian activists gathered in Idlib city to demand peace and freedom. Time and time again, the people of Syria have tried to make their voices heard, yet the Syrian people are being silenced by both the regime and by you. We are watching ISIS wide-eyed as Assad perpetuates the bloodshed across Syria. The Syrian people have suffered unspeakable horrors in their pursuit of freedom. The least we could do is recognize the main enemy.