Foreign Affairs

The liberation of Aleppo? Pouring a sea of grey into buckets of black and white

Parliament debates the liberation of Aleppo today. Marvellous. That’ll sort it all out. Or perhaps MPs won’t quite debate the liberation of Aleppo, for Aleppo hasn’t actually been liberated from the torture, mass slaughter or summary executions of dictatorship. No, according to reports, that’s all in full swing: “The women may be taken to camps, the men ‘disappeared’ and anyone who is known to have supported civilians will face detention or execution.” But it’s liberation according to the Morning Star (“For peace and socialism”) – the preferred organ of Jeremy Corbyn, Momentum and the robust progressive left. It’s true that Bashar al-Assad has regained control of the city with the obliging military might of Vladimir Putin, but it is liberation only from the daily din of bombardment and destruction: the people are still in chains. There is no deliverance unless you’re pro-Assad, or pro-Putin, or anti-ISIS or anti-al-Qaeda.

O, hang on.

Aleppo has been emancipated from the clutches of sundry ‘rebels’. Aren’t some people a bit happy about that? Has anybody bothered to ask them, or are they the wrong sort of people to ask? Perhaps ‘happy’ isn’t quite the word, but isn’t it a liberation of sorts if those who crucify, rape and behead your beloved are bombed to hell? Okay, it’s not national salvation and the establishment of liberal democracy, and an awful lot of innocent people have been sacrificed as ‘collateral damage’. But Syria and the whole Levant region is such a quagmire of warring factions that one man’s Islamism is another’s Islamic freedom. Do religiously-illiterate politicians and secular-minded journalists really know their al-Qaeda from their al-Nusra Front? Do they know why people support Fatah al-Islam against Jund al-Sham, or the Syria Free Army against the Abdullah Azzam Brigade? And let’s not mention Jund al-Aqsa and the Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade; or the Idlib Martyrs’ Brigade, Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union, Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade, Army of Mujahedeen, Ghuraba al-Sham, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Perhaps the only liberation in the fall of Aleppo is from a fate worse than life.

Fine word, ‘liberation’. Can one really speak of ‘liberation’ or do we see Western politicians and journalists striving to reformulate and redefine freedom in ways they find more acceptable, with others so grievously offended at the (ab)use of the term that they must take to Twitter to signal their superior rationalisation?

“After months of bombardment, people in Aleppo face slaughter tonight. Morning Star calls it ‘liberation’. Nauseating,” tweets Labour’s Ian Austin MP. “I will never bow to twisted scum who think mass slaughter in Aleppo is ‘liberation’,” tweets Labour’s John Woodcock MP. The Guardian‘s Jessica Elgot follows: “‘Liberation’ is what the Morning Star calls the slaughter of children in Aleppo. Horrific.” And from the Spectator comes Isabel Hardman: “Those terrified people are saying goodbye tonight because they fear slaughter. They’re not holding street parties anticipating ‘liberation’.”

But some clearly are.

That’s not to say that one must share in or justify their rejoicing: it’s hard to celebrate when children are crushed beneath rubble and choke a slow death to eternal darkness. Assad and Putin have inflicted earthquakes, storms, disease and famine on an apocalyptic scale. They did it to bring judgment on evil, while the West was content to do no more than debate the nature of that evil, as the House of Commons does (again) today. But in the hierarchy of evil, we may discern ‘higher’ manifestations and ‘lower’ forms: is an Alawite dictatorship not a lesser evil that Islamist anarchy? None is good: they are both negative and destructive because they herald suffering and death. Both are the enemy of being and an offence to the image of God. But let us not kid ourselves that some aren’t more terrible than others: in the melting pot of the Middle East, there are greater and lesser evils. None may bring liberation, but what is the better good is not always what is freest; and what is liberated in the kingdom of sin will never be defined by partisan politicians or determined by Twitter.