A St Andrews University student whose family was forced to flee the “two evils” of Syrian government barrel bombs and so-called Islamic State (IS) beheadings has warned that British air strikes must avoid civilian casualties or risk recruiting a new generation of terrorists.
In an exclusive interview with The Courier, Haian Dukhan, who left Syria in 2012 to study for his PhD in international relations at St Andrews University, warned that ongoing military action against IS must not lead to strengthening President Bashar al-Assad’s positions against other opposition groups.
He said that in addition to military action, the British government must work hard with its partners to put more pressure on Assad’s regime to accept a transitional government and establish a long-term solution.
Haian, 34, said: “I can’t really describe the British bombing as a good or bad thing.
“The Islamic State is a terrorist organisation that has killed many Syrians and British people. “There must be a military action against it to contain it and eliminate it.
“The problem is with the mechanism of implementing these strikes.”
Growing up in the ancient historical city of Palmyra, Haian had first-hand experience of Assad’s regime which suppressed freedom of speech and bred resentment through the persistence of economic poverty.
When widespread discontent at similar economic hardship, autocratic rule and corruption toppled Tunisia’s President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, Haian celebrated the dawn of the pro-democracy ‘Arab Spring’ and quietly welcomed the rebellion which began in the rural lands around his town.
But he said millions of Haian’s own peace loving country-folk, including his own family of “moderate Muslims”who fled to Turkey, quickly found themselves caught between Assad’s rebel-crushing regime and the rise of IS which has brought in its own level of brutality.
He added: “There are two issues that need to be taken into consideration with regard the British bombing..
“First, IS controls large parts of Syria and Iraq and its fighters are entrenched within civilians in Raqqa and other parts of the country.
“The concern is that any military action against IS will lead to more casualties with Syrian civilians which would reinforce IS narratives that this is another crusade against the Muslims and enable them to get more recruits.
“Second, for while Islamic State has attracted the attention of western politicians and military personnel, the majority of Syrians are more fixated on Assad as the principal threat to daily life in Syria.
“They see that the international community is hypocrite when it chose to ignore Assad after using chemical weapons against its people while it is targeting IS now.
“Assad has been using barrel bombs against its own people for many years which lead to destruction of whole cities and the displacement of hundred thousands of refugees.
“Any military action against IS in Syria must not lead to strengthening Assad’s positions in Syria against other opposition groups.
“It must also rely on precise intelligence information that try to avoid any causalities among civilians.
“Otherwise, the campaign would lead to adverse results.”