From Guernica to Qusayr

Hisham Melhem

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The role of countries and foreign parties in the Syrian civil war is similar to that of foreign parties in the Spanish civil war. If the EU’s decision to lift the ban on arming the Syrian opposition aimed at increasing pressure on the Syrian regime to force it to negotiate at the second Geneva Conference, it's clear the decision led to opposite results.

It's now certain that countries which hinted to arm the opposition, like France and Britain, do not intend to supply the opposition with arms anytime soon and they will definitely not do so before the Geneva Conference is held. On the practical level, these countries' stances are currently the same as Washington's when it comes to this point.

Qusayr’s symbolism

On the political front, the EU decision has facilitated for Russia to take a stricter stance regarding arming the Syrian regime. It has also provided Syrian regime's forces, Iranian military members and Hezbollah fighters a cover to escalate their military attacks on all fronts particularly on the Qusayr front which has gained a symbolic, political and strategic importance that is far more than any other importance gained by Syrian towns and cities that have been visited by this brutal war suffered from the brutal war. It's probable that in this Syrian war, Qusayr will gain the political and symbolic importance that the town of Guernica, which painter Picasso immortalized in one of the most important paintings of the 20th century, during the Spanish war.

A massive distance separates Guernica and Qusayr but a long line of blood links them. Both towns were completely destroyed in a fighting that targeted civilians. Just like in Qusayr, the spearhead in Guernica was a foreign party.

The raids conducted by German and Italian warplanes (as part of the Fascist and Nazi support of the Spanish right-wing) are what destroyed Guernica in 1937. They were the first such raids on civil targets. In Qusayr, forces of the Lebanese party Hezbollah are the ones besieging and shelling the town. In Spain, the Nazi and the fascist support of General Franco's forces and the latter's heavy use of Moroccan soldiers played a pivotal role in winning the war. In Syria, Iran and Hezbollah play a pivotal military role that has at least until now prevented the collapse of the regime.

The wars in Spain and Syria have an ideological dimension which transformed them into an existential struggle. In Spain, the war was waged in absolutist terms absolutely between the right-wing and the left-wing (the Catholics and the atheists?) In Syria, the war every day gains a hideous sectarian dimension that reflects the sectarian polarization attraction between the Sunnis and the Shiites in the region. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah's recent speech was Shiite sectarian rhetoric par excellence. All linguistic tricks and implicit references lingual attempts to embellish it did not hide how sectarian his rhetoric was. Prominent cleric Sheikh Yussef Qaradawi responded with a similar Sunni rhetoric. It's true that their turbans headdress are is different but their sectarian discourse is the same rhetoric is one. Spain's war burnt the European continent. We will soon be talking about the sectarian violence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon as violence occurring on one front.

This article was first published in Lebanon-based Annahar on June 6, 2013.
Hisham Melhem is the Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. Melhem's writings appear in publications ranging from the literary journal Al-Mawaqef to the LA Times, as well as in magazines such as Foreign Policy and Middle East Report. Melhem focuses on U.S.-Arab relations, political Islam, Arab-Israeli issues, media in the Arab World, Arab images in American media. In addition, Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. Twitter: @Hisham_Melhem

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