This question of how terrorism is being defined is especially worth considering in this day and age. Arguably, the world has become obsessed with the word “terrorism” since the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon 15 years ago. But what is the real difference between terrorism and the more general concept of belligerent or violent action, specifically in the case of the Syrian civil war?
When the ceasefire brokered by Russia and the U.S. in Syria was announced on Sept. 10, the primary focus of conversation in the international community was the question of how to issue increased humanitarian aid to the regions affected by five years of civil war. Three weeks after the announcement of this agreement, the more relevant question is now whether the ceasefire will work at all. At the moment, there is little chance that this specific agreement will bring about peace in Syria.
The Syrian government, backed by Russia, announced last Tuesday that there was effectively no ceasefire agreement since the rebels, supported by the U.S., have failed to commit to a single element of the ceasefire agreement.
There are, however, still some remnants of hope that the agreement will help bring peace in Syria, especially for Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The pair met again last Friday and exchanged ideas, Kerry said. They are currently constructively evaluating mutual ideas in the hope that they can bring about peace between the rebels and the al-Assad government.
From other points of view, however, it is unlikely that this agreement will bring about any positive change. For many observers, this agreement seems to have been doomed from the start, as a U.S.-led airstrike was carried out in the area surrounding Aleppo the day after the initial ceasefire agreement was signed and was answered by a controversial attack on an aid convoy — allegedly carried out either by the Syrian government or the Russian military — that killed 12 aid workers.
The contingent supporting al-Assad — including Iran and Hezbollah — were confident and invested in the agreement. However, the rebel groups have been skeptical of the ceasefire agreement from the beginning, and were reportedly insisting that the guarantees of the ceasefire be clarified before they would officially commit to the agreement.
“[The rebels believe that the] clauses of the agreement that have been shared with [them] do not include any clear guarantees or monitoring mechanisms … or repercussions if there are truce violations,” according to Al Jazeera.
Further, a spokesman for the resistance groups has questioned the definition that has been chosen for the word “terrorism,” as this has been a word thrown about flippantly by the Assad regime and its international supporters.
President al-Assad of Syria reportedly said that his government was focused on retaking land held by terrorists in order to begin rebuilding the country just hours before the ceasefire went into effect. For obvious reasons, this was not a statement that rebel groups were happy to hear, as they themselves would likely consider the Assad government terrorists for their continued violations of human rights.
By labeling his opponents “terrorists,” Assad likely believes that he can garner more support from the international community by condemning what he sees to be an illegitimate challenge to his government as nothing more than terrorist activity.
But, if the claims of the opposition are more valid, who can say that he should not be given the damning title of terrorist? After all, his regime has been consistently criticized for their blatant disregard of basic human rights and consistent use of unnecessary violence.
The rebels’ primary objective is removing al-Assad from the Syrian presidency, but the agreement offers no such guarantees. The rebels have been repeatedly referred to as terrorists by their opponent, but they have since the beginning worked to emphasize their devotion to international standards of human rights as laid out in the U.N.’s declaration.
So why should they agree to give up their strongholds if there have been no guarantees that the government they perceive as being extremely corrupt will be reformed? Further, why should the group which is interested in upholding the rights of individuals have been expected to agree to a ceasefire that gave them no guarantees of safety in the event of an end to the violence? This second question is especially valid since the issue of who will be enforcing the ceasefire is especially vague in the agreement.
Given the Assad regime’s track record, it is not surprising that they would have been skeptical of the agreement from the get-go. Like so many revolutions throughout history, the rebel groups have continued fighting because of what they see as violations of their rights and threats to their safety as individuals by the Assad regime. The fact that they were willing to comply with the agreement, likely so that the promised international aid could be extended to remote areas affected heavily by the recent airstrikes, speaks volumes for the rebels.
For now, we can only hope that future agreements favorable for both sides can be more successful, as it is fairly obvious that the current agreement will do little to resolve the conflict in Syria.