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The Reality of Sectarian Conflict

Walter Russell Mead

Amnesty International has accused Kurdish forces fighting in northeast Syria of war crimes, charging the Kurdish YPG militia of targeting civilians in Hasakah and Raqqa provinces. The human rights watchdog spoke with residents of Syria’s Kurdish-controlled Rojava region and heard consistent tales of forced eviction at gunpoint. One woman’s representative story recalls the destruction of her village in the north of Syria:

They [the YPG] said, ‘Stay in your homes. We won’t bother you. We have come to liberate you [from Isis]. We just want the names of the people that are wanted’. But then they wouldn’t even let us take our clothes out of the house. They pulled us out of our homes and began burning them. Then they brought the bulldozers.

Ethnic (and religious) cleansing is an inevitable element of identity wars like the ones raging in Syria today. Tens of millions in Europe and Turkey went through the anguish and agony of being driven from their homes—or fleeing in panic from them—over the last 150 years. The only way to stop these terrible cruelties and crimes is to prevent them: to maintain international order and to prevent the state meltdowns that leave ethnic and religious communities in a state of nature. The so-called “international community” and the world’s community organizer-in-chief have failed in that; now the grim consequences are appearing one by one.

Syria and Iraq are becoming Greater Lebanon as their inhabitants turn on one another. The law of the jungle is the only law left when communities are fighting, or believe they are fighting, for their survival. Shi’a against Sunni, Kurd against Arab, perhaps soon Kurd against Turk…once these wars get going, they rarely end quickly. The bitterness and above all the fear—existential fear for the survival of your kind—remain, ready to flare into new rounds of hideous violence.

These are the demons that have been unleashed in the Middle East; it is hard to see now how they can be tamed.

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