Brother Peter Cunliffe’s Speech on the Syrian Crisis

Brother Peter Cunliffe’s Speech on the Syrian Crisis

By Quran and Bible Blog Contributor Peter Cunliffe

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Editor’s Note: Below is a transcript of brother Peter Cunliffe’s speech at the Indo-Chinese Association Building in Winnepeg, Canada.

            Salaam alaikum. My name is Peter and I thank you for allowing me the chance to speak and share my thoughts both on the situation in Syria and about what Islaam has to say about warfare. Before we begin, we need to be clear on a few things. Firstly, I am not an expert in Syrian history and I have never been to Syria. There are people here tonight who are far more qualified to speak than I am on this topic. What I am sharing is information I have learned from human rights organizations that include Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as various media sources. Although I am a Muslim alhamdullilah, I am still learning about my faith. Whatever is true that I said is from Allah subhanawataala and whatever is false is from me.

            Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge that we are standing on Treaty One Territory, and the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Metis Nations.[1]

            The civil war in Syria began more than seven years ago, after protesters in the city of Deraa who were demonstrating against the government of Bashar Al Assad were shot dead by armed security forces. More protests were then put down in the cities of Homs and Banyas and Deraa and even the outskirts of Damascus and tanks were sent in by the regime. Unarmed people were shot down with automatic weapons and tank shells. In July 2011, an armed Syrian opposition group called the Free Syrian Army formed, and began waging a guerrilla warfare against Assads forces. In 2012, Al Nusra front and ISIS and other rebel groups with an extremist interpretation of Islam began to arise, and waged war against the government of Assad as well as the Syrian army as well as each other. In northern Syria, a Kurdish armed group known as the YPG took control of Afrin and other Kurdish majority areas.

            One of the worst aspects of the civil war in Syria is that an overwhelming majority if not all of the Syrian armed groups have been and continue to be involved in war crimes.

            Assad’s soldiers and police and allied armed groups have been responsible in widespread torture, rape and mass murder. In January 17, 2013 in the city of Homs, pro-Assad militias shot and stabbed and burned to death 106 men and women and children. Assad allied militias like the Shabiha militias have been targeting Sunni Muslims for extermination, and have done unspeakable things to mothers and daughters and wives of those they seek to terrorize. Assad’s armed forces bombed and devastated the cities of Homs and Deraa and many others with air strikes and artillery, killings tens of thousands of civilians indiscriminately. A notorious weapon being used by the regime have been barrel bombs, which are not guided and often are launched into centres with high populations of civilians. Assad’s air strikes on the city of Ghouta this year have killed 650 civilians as of March. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, an overwhelming majority of the deaths in Syria- between 250,000 and 470,000 depending on various estimates, have been perpetrated by the government of Assad.

            However, Assad’s forces are not the only ones committing barbaric atrocities. Free Syrian Army fighters have been, according to Human Rights Watch, committing kidnappings, torture and executions. Upon seizing towns from Assad’s fores, FSA fighters have executed men who were sometimes prisoners of war and at other times simply suspected of working for Assad after sham trials which lasted for a few minutes, sometimes beside a ready grave. Some POWs have been shot, others killed with swords or thrown off buildings. On September 9, 2013, FSA fighters detonated a car bomb near the Al Hayatt hospital, in Aleppo. The Free Syrian Army also helped the Turkish army in their invasion of the Kurdish city of Afrin in March 2017. The invasion involved air strikes which killed hundreds of Kurdish civilians by the Turkish Air Force, and soon after entering the city the FSA went on a looting spree against the local population. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Kurdish young men are being kidnapped and tortured and their families are being forced to pay for their release. At least one man, who was mentally disabled, has been murdered in captivity last month. The Free Syrian Army has also in some cases forcefully tried to convert non-Muslim Yazidi Kurds to Islam.

            The Al Nusra Front and the so-called Islamic State have been notorious for a widespread campaign of torture and mass murder. These groups and others like them have been not only indiscriminately shelling civilian areas, but attempting to displace and in some cases murder entire populations of people based on their religion. Christians and Shia Muslims and Alawites have been singled out for extortion, robbery, torture, and murder. On October 2013, in the Christian town of Sadad Al Nusra and ISIS fighters massacred an estimated 50 Assyrian Christians and threw their bodies into wells. Men and women as well as children were mercilessly killed. Perhaps the worst thing is that the townspeople surrendered without putting up a fight.

            In the Latakia Offensive of 2013, Al Nusra and Free Syrian Army fighters captured several villages in the Latakia governate, which were full of mostly Alawites, a religious group that President Assad belongs to. Over several days, some 190 civilians were shot and murdered in other ways and buried in mass graves. The victims included also children and women who were raped first.

            Kurdish YPG forces have also committed human rights abuses, although on a smaller scale than the government of Assad or rebel fighters. In YPG controlled Syrian Kurdistan, thousands of Turkmen and Arabs have had their homes demolished and have been forcibly moved. Many have been arrested and tortured in prisons on suspicion of belonging to ISIS or other Syrian opposition groups. People protesting against the Kurdish leaders have been beaten up and arrested, and some have been killed.

            What makes the situation in Syria especially terrible is not only that almost all if not all the armed actors are committing war crimes, but that they also are receiving money and weapons from other states which are fighting a proxy war.

            The government of Assad is receiving direct military support from the Russian military as well as Iran, who supply him not only with money and weapons but also send soldiers to fight for him. Between September 2015 and January 2016 alone, some one thousand Syrian civilians, including 300 children, have been killed in Russian airstrikes in Syria. Russian aircraft, like Assad’s, have hit neighborhoods and schools and hospitals. Hezbollah fighters have went into battle alongside Assad’s soldiers and militias, and have taken part in mass executions and other crimes against humanity.

            Russian and Iranian armed forces aren’t the only foreign armies fighting in Syria and committing atrocities.

            American air attacks against allegedly ISIS and more recently Syrian government targets have killed thousands of Syrian civilians. An American air raid on Al Tukhar village in September 2016 killed sixty men and women and children in their homes. Both Obama and Trump have been mercilessly bombing Syria.

            The Turkish army, in their invasion of Afrin, have killed some 300 Kurdish civilians in artillery and air raids. One of the targets hit was the Afrin general hospital, where 16 were killed including 2 pregnant women. After taking Afrin, Turkish soldiers filmed themselves giving aid to people, while allowing affiliated FSA fighters to go on a spree of looting and abductions and murder that is ongoing. Syrian civilians have also been killed in Israeli airstrikes, allegedly of a “defensive” nature. An Israeli airstrike in the town of Quneitra in June 2017 killed several Syrian civilians.

            One of the main reasons why the war in Syria continues is the flow of weapons coming to all of the sides. As previously mentioned, Assad receives Iranian and Russian military aid. The rebel groups fighting against him receive money and weapons from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Jordan… and the list goes on. The billions if not trillions of dollars that are being made come at the cost of literally hundreds of thousands of human lives.

            The crimes being perpetrated in Syria… by all of the factions and armed groups that are perpetrating them… stand against everything that Islaam teaches.  We learn in the Quran that Allah swt expects us to not take the lives of others, unless it is in self-defence or as punishment for a crime like murder and rape.

“And that you slay not the life, which Allah has made sacred, except for the requirements of justice. This He has enjoined you with, in order that you may discern.”[2]

To take an innocent life is a huge sin, and to preserve an innocent life is a very good deed.

“For this reason did We decree for the children of Israel that (for) whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though they slew all humankind, and (for) whoever keeps it alive, it is as though they kept alive all humankind.”[3]

In Syria, neither Assad’s government or the Free Syrian Army or Al Nusra Front or the YPG or ISIS or the other armed groups that are committing atrocities seem to take these verses into any consideration. Unarmed men and women and children are not military targets. Even prisoners of war, once they have surrendered, are to not be ill treated unless it can be proven that they have perpetrated murder. Surah al Ihsan 76:8 and 9 describes the righteous as being those who, among other things, are explicitly described as feeding their captives. In the Quran, someone who takes a prisoner has two options- release them right away or wait until a ransom is paid or Muslim prisoners are freed- and then release them.

            When unfortunate situations arise when war- which according to Surah al Baqarah 2: 190 can only be defensive since Allah does not love transgressors- is to be waged, the Prophet taught us that civilians- and especially men and women and children and the elderly- are off limits:

“Narrated By ‘Abdullah : During some of the Ghazawat of the Prophet a woman was found killed. Allah’s Apostle disapproved the killing of women and children.”[4]

“I advise you ten things: Do not kill women or children or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place. Do not slaughter sheep or camels except for food. Do not burn bees and do not scatter them. Do not steal from the booty, and do not be cowardly.”[5]

The war crimes being waged in Syria both the government and the opposition groups- as well as the Russian and American and Iranian and Turkish and other soldiers… go against everything that Islam teaches.

            May Allah swt bring justice and peace to all the victimized people of Syria and may He show us what we can do to help our brothers and sisters- regardless of religion or ethnicity- who are in this nightmare that doesn’t seem to be ending.

[1] As a non-Indigenous resident of Canada, I realize that as a settler I live on land that does not belong to me. The groups mentioned in the above paragraph are First Nations tribes who lived here long before the first Europeans, and then other groups of people, arrived. It is acknowledged in many schools and public gatherings, and rightly so.  As a Muslim I am obliged to respect the hosts of the land where I live.

[2] Surah Al-Anaam, 6:151.

[3] Surah Al-Maida, 5:32.

[4] Sahih Bukhari, 4:52:257.

[5] Al-Muwatta Imam Malik, 21:10. 

Editor’s Note: This was a saying of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), but it still reflects the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). 

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