Worlds apart, yet close to home – Syria


While the world reacts to airstrikes in Syria, the Isle of Man is making a difference.

Last Saturday, the world woke up to the news that the US, the UK and France had launched airstrikes against the regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria. These strikes represent the latest phase of this bloody, destructive conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.Despite being thousands of miles away from the conflict, the people of the Isle of Man continue to support innocent Syrians affected by the war. Our community’s latest effort is a Syrian Supper Club that will raise money for the Hands Up Foundation, which is providing prosthetic limbs, doctors and nurses’ salaries, and education for the people who remain behind inside this devastated country.

The airstrikes launched by the three Western allies came in the wake of a suspected chemical attack by the Assad regime against the people of Douma, a city near the Syrian capital, Damascus. This is not the first time the regime has used chemical weapons against its people, and over the past seven years, Assad has clearly shown his total disregard for human life and the violent lengths to which he is willing to go to maintain his control.But this is the harshest reaction yet from the international community, which begs the question: why now? With the support of Russia and Iran, Assad has all but won the war. The West knows this and it’s unlikely that Trump, Macron or May expect their one-off, late-to-the-party strikes will turn the tide of the conflict. Sadly, these strikes were much less likely an attempt to protect civilians than the latest in a series of politically-motivated, reactive moves by external powers fighting their own proxy war in Syria.For the USA, it was all about saving face. After tweet-happy Trump’s promise of missiles last week, his administration had little choice but to strike or risk being seen as ‘all talk and no action’. For the UK and France, this attack was likely a more calculated way of warning Russia and its ally, Assad, what the West is capable of.But it seems the only winner was Assad himself. While Trump tweeted “Mission accomplished!” and claimed that the strike had struck the heart of Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities, the Russian military claimed that only minor damage was caused and that Syria’s air defence systems shot down 71 of the 103 cruise missiles before they reached their targets.The well-oiled Syrian government propaganda machine has been in full swing since the weekend, celebrating what it is portraying as a huge success for hero Assad in surviving an attack by the West.Meanwhile, Russia is standing as steadfastly behind Assad as ever, and Trump, May and Macron are facing hard questions at home about the dubious legality of the attack, after bypassing the UN Security Council (not to mention Congress and Parliament) to launch the strikes.The Syrian situation is an impossible one. Every year the conflict becomes more complicated, violent and more intensely political. The country has become the battleground for global powers fighting for geopolitical influence, while ordinary people are paying the price with their lives. Nobody knows how to end the war, so it just keeps on going.

The parties on the ground have nothing to lose, while global powers have everything to gain.

Yet there are still small things we can do to show support for the innocent people whose lives have been destroyed by the war. We can start by supporting the few organisations that do have access to civilians in need of help – organisations like the Hands Up Foundation, who we are supporting through the Syrian Supper Club.Hands Up SyriaThe Hands Up Foundation was set up by four British friends who were inspired by their time living in Damascus before the war. “For us,” they say, “‘Syria’ is the noise, colour and scent of spice souks, the birthplace of modern civilisation and the definition of hospitality. The idea behind everything Hands Up does is simple and positive; gather people together, remind them of Syria’s rich culture and do something good.”Hands Up 2They are currently funding three projects: a prosthetic limb clinic for the wounded on the Turkish border; a team of doctors and nurses who have stayed against all odds to treat people in Idlib, and school supplies and meals for 900 children in rural Homs.We are supporting the Hands Up Foundation here on the Isle of Man by holding a Syrian Supper Club on 26th April, which is being organised by Bath & Bottle and Pink Jinn. It’s set to be an incredible evening, with guests enjoying a welcome cocktail, Arabic coffee and dates. Half of the proceeds of the tickets will go to the work of the Hands Up Foundation.Supper Club foodThere will also be a raffle on the night, with some amazing prizes donated by a number of generous local businesses including Sure, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, Fynodderee Distillery, the Vanilla Room, Ocean, Utopia and more.Tickets are now sold out, but keep your eyes peeled for the next event.As the situation in Syria goes from bad to worse, never has there been a greater need for the support of small but powerful communities like ours. Help the Isle of Man do what it does best – get together, have a great time, and do some good!You can read Laura’s blog here.

Laura Cretney is the Director of Al Ishara Consulting, a political and regional consultancy for organisations working in the Middle East and North Africa. She is also the Editor of Middle East politics, culture and travel blog, Pink Jinn. She speaks fluent Arabic and has lived and worked in the region, most recently managing projects in Baghdad. Through her work and her writing, Laura hopes to show a different side to the Middle East to that frequently portrayed in the media and to build links between the Isle of Man and the region.

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