Bernie Sanders, Prince Charles and Charlotte Church may have little in common, but we recently discovered that they agree on at least one thing.
All three have recently stated that climate change has played a big part in causing the ongoing civil war in Syria, and if we want to end violence in the long-run, we should get more serious about tackling climate change.
Update: On Wednesday 2nd December 2015 British MPs voted in favour of using airstrikes on the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. This article was written before the vote and explored the situation in Syria.
Syria has been in the midst of a civil war since 2011. Since 2000, the country has been under the rule of a supposed dictator, President Bashar Al-Assad.
Protests over the imprisonment of a group of children in 2011 led to a rebel uprising. Now the Syrian government is fighting against thousands of rebel groups. Throw in an extremist Islamic group called Islamic State, and it’s easy to see why the UK government is advising people NOT to go to Syria.The rebel groups are fighting to change the way the country is governed for political reasons. The Islamic extremists want the country to be ruled under Islamic law.
The UK government voted against getting involved in Syria in 2013. Later it was revealed that UK pilots have been helping with American airstrikes. Recent attacks have unearthed the debate on whether the UK should enter Syria today.
Syria is a country in the Middle East in between Iraq and Turkey. Over the last century power struggles have rocketed.
Syria considers itself a republic. It has an elected President and a government. But in reality the country has been ruled as a dictatorship; where one individual has absolute power.
The current President Bashar Al-Assad took office in 2000 after the death of his father, who had ruled since the 1970s. Assad has been described as a dictator; removing anyone who stands up to him, and the evidence we have supports this. Human rights activists claim that his opponents are often tortured and killed. Social media websites and online chat rooms are also routinely blocked.
The majority of Syrian Muslims belong to a branch of the Islam faith called Sunni Islam. President Assad is part of a separate group; the Alawites. This is part of a smaller branch of Islam; called Shia Islam. Most of Syria’s ruling class are Alawites. Why are we stating this? History has taught us that Middle Eastern religious differences often translate into political tensions.
In 2011 a group of children were arrested for writing anti-government messages on a wall. It was reported that they were also tortured. Peaceful protests called for the release of the children and for changes in the way the country was run.
Protesters called for democracy and an end to the oppressive regime led by Assad. Instead the Syrian authorities sent in the riot police, who opened fire and killed four people. Violent protests began throughout the country and rebel groups began organising and fighting back. To date more than 200,000 people have been killed as a result of the conflict.
In recent years Syria’s relationship with the West has gone sour. This is partly due to Syria’s military actions in parts of the Middle East and its poor human rights record. It didn’t help when in 2009 man-made Nuclear materials were discovered in Syria. The Islamic State are of course not the biggest fans of the West either.
The international community considered stepping in when it was reported that both the Syrian government and rebel groups were committing war crimes.
In 2013 bombs were dropped just outside of Damascus releasing deadly Sarin gas. Western countries blamed the Syrian government; and the government blamed the rebels. President Assad eventually agreed to the destruction of all chemical weapons belonging to the Syrian authorities, when the USA said “any more of that and we’ll come to sort this mess”.
Since then the United Nations security council has heard further reports of chemical attacks on rebel territories in the north. Given the West has their own battle with the so-called Islamic State or ISIS, the USA and other countries found enough reason to eventually get involved, and collectively have carried out over 1,600 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria. The UK government voted against military action in Syria in 2013, however the UK government has some explaining to do; it’s been reported that UK pilots took part in airstrikes despite the vote against military action.
What we should question at this point: Is the West’s involvement to help the people of Syria or as a vendetta against ISIS?
The self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) took advantage of the chaos created by the civil war in order to work towards their goals. Fighters for IS want to create an Islamic state. They call it a caliphate. This is a universal state-run under Muslim Sharia Law; derived from teachings in the Qur’an – Islam’s holy book. Islamic State is led by Sunni Muslims.
Broadcasters refer to ISIS as the “so-called” or “self-styled” Islamic State to show that they do not recognise the Islamist group as a state. Politicians have also started calling them Daesh which the group finds offensive.
Islamic State declared the Caliphate in 2014. Since then they’ve been attacking high-profile targets and taking hostages. The US has just changed its policy on ransoms for hostages; allowing family members to pay to get their loved ones back. IS have also made Christianity punishable by death. Islamic State fighters control areas in northern Iraq and northern Syria. Having taken over oil and gas fields, their daily revenue is estimated at $3,000,000.
Bashar Al-Assad is still President, but Syrian authorities have lost control of large parts of the country. Territory boundaries change every day; intelligence from even a few weeks ago is largely useless.
Government forces control the West of the country. Rebel groups control the North. In the East a group of Kurdish fighters are also fighting against ISIS.
Islamic State is said to control 50% of Syria’s land, according to The Guardian. The group controls land through the middle of Syria with support networks throughout other areas. The rise of the Islamic group has also brought a religious aspect to what began as a political struggle.
The opposition against the Syrian authorities and President Assad is… a bit of a mess. It’s estimated that there are over 1,000 rebels groups in the country. Many different alliances have been formed. The four main coalitions are; the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the Syrian National Council (SNC), the National Coordination Committee (NCC) and the Kurdish Supreme Committee. So far they’ve been unable to agree on a strategy to combat Assad. Ever thought of working together, guys?
Four million people have left the country since the start of the conflict. These migrants have been travelling through countries like Libya, attempting to reach safety in Europe. That hasn’t stopped UK citizens travelling to the country and joining forces with Islamic State.
UK involvement should not be deliberated lightly. If we’re fighting ISIS in Syria should we be thinking more carefully about the consequences?
Activist; someone who campaigns for social change. Activists use online campaigns, predominantly peaceful marches and petitions to lobby governments and leaders to make changes.
Monday July 13th, eco-warriors from the group “Plane Stupid” chained themselves together in the middle of a Heathrow runway. They were protesting plans to create a third runway at Heathrow; claiming it will damage the environment. Many flights have been delayed and cancelled as the protesters were cut free and taken into custody.
Can you withstand freezing temperatures? Can you cope with heights? Then you might be tough enough to join Greenpeace activists hijacking oil rigs drilling in the arctic. Greenpeace use the publicity from occupying the rig to get their point across.
Don’t expect a warm welcome. Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo once got blasted by water cannons for hours while trying to board a rig in Greenland. Potential bodily harm? No biggie.
Greenpeace said that their climate activists all have climbing experience in their day-to-day lives. So don’t try this at home, kids.
So you’ve occupied a rig, a public space or an area you wish to protect. What do you do next?
Climate activists from the Earth First group spent four years defending a forest by “tree sitting”. Activists created “nests” high up in the trees and then used ropes to travel between them. Activists took turns just sitting in the trees; preventing the company which owned the land from cutting them down.
Perhaps pack that book you’ve been meaning to read.
While you’re out protesting don’t forget to let people know what you’re up to.
Public perception is a big deal for activists. Loose the support of the public and funding from donations dries up. It also doesn’t hurt to have the public on your side when in court facing a punishment for breaking the law.
When Greenpeace activists hijacked an oil rig they posted regular updates online. As the saying goes; there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Social media is a great way of organising support for rallies and marches. So, do you know your hashtags from your likes? Very good; but it’s about to get real.
Living in 1960s South Africa was not easy for black people. Racial segregation called Apartheid meant that black people were treated as second class citizens. An all-white government had been in power since 1948. Black people were forced to live in separate areas. They also had to carry documents so that their movement could be monitored and controlled.
Activist Nelson Mandela headed up the military wing of the African National Congress; an organisation fighting for the rights of black people. For years his military group (called the Spear of the Nation) attacked railways, official buildings and power stations. Over 200 targets were attacked from 1961 to 1964. Though the Spear of the Nation never deliberately targeted people, many died as a result of the attacks.
Today Mandela is seen as a brave freedom fighter; at the time the government viewed him as a dangerous terrorist.
Break the law and you have to be prepared to face the consequences.
Nelson Mandela was eventually captured and sent to prison for life. He served 27 years in jail before being released. He later became South Africa’s first black President. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2013 Russia arrested Greenpeace activists for protesting on an oil rig. At first they faced charges of piracy; after months these charges were dropped. Russia was about to host the Winter Olympics; many believe the charges got dropped to improve public perceptions of Russia’s human rights record.
The life of an activist is not an easy one. Annoy the wrong people and you could wake up dead.
Sometimes activists get killed by accident. The Suffragette Movement is a good example of how standing up for a cause can be deadly.
The Suffragettes protested for women’s rights. Ladies; they’re the reason you get to vote in elections today. But it didn’t come easy.
1913; a suffragette called Emily Davison, died after she threw herself in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby.
For years most people thought this was suicide. New analysis of film footage suggests Davison was attempting to attach a suffragette banner to the horse belonging to King George V. Women finally got the vote in 1928.