As reported by the BBC two people were arrested today at Heathrow Airport after returning from Egypt, and are being held on suspicion of supporting terrorism-related activities in Syria.  This coincides with a New York Times report entitled Westerners With Roots in Syria Trickle In to Help Rebels, quite a romantic report concentrated on the non-military help provided by this apparently small group. I think it would be sensible to surmise that the two arrested in the UK are suspected of more than the delivery of medical supplies or expansion of the rebels social media impact as detailed by The New York Times.

This throws into further light Britain and, more widely, the West’s hesitancy over their support of the disparate rebel groups operating in Syria.  The fear of the empowerment of the known jihadist and extremist groups in Syrian and possibly Rumsfeld’s famous “Unknown unknowns” has been one of the core reasons for the lack of full-scale support for the wider armed rebellion. UK citizens have gone abroad in the past for terrorist training in Pakistan or to engage in insurgency against western forces in both Afghanistan & Iraq. However what is to be classed as terrorism in Syria at this point?  The blowing up of government buildings, as is happening on a regular basis, would certainly be considered as terrorism in countries where a majority peaceful situation dominates. However as the conflict is classed as acivil war by the International Red Cross (ICRC), is this now a legitimate target of the rebels as part of the wider campaign to overthrow the Assad rule?

What if these British citizens are implicated in such activities?  Is it really about Syria, or what threat they would now pose to the UK as a result of any knowledge or training they would have received? Scotland Yard has confirmed that one line of police inquiry was a possible connection with the capture and detention of a war photographer, John Cantlie, in August.

It seems as if the crisis in Syria is only of interest to outside powers (not the people who have shown much empathy throughout the world) both in the region and on a global stage for its impacts upon their interests, even more so than other conflicts.  This is, in essence, an uprising which has become a proxy war where outside interests trounce any long term pain or need of the citizens of the country. Mark Levine recently asked on the Aljazeera website in an excellent piece whether the Syrians should have taken up arms at all in their effort to overthrow the Assad regime. Perhaps in doing so they surrendered any control over their own destiny as foreign interests trump everything else.


By Jonathan Woodrow Martin

One thought on “British citizens fighting in Syria….so what?

  1. I think it’s a reasonable comparison to make, 30’s Spain and today’s Syria even if it is somewhat in reverse, with groups trying to overthrow a repressive regime rather than the overthrow of a democratic government by a regressive fascist force. Both are civil wars that have morphed in to proxy wars for greater powers and have sucked in both foreign mercenaries and ideologically inspired fighters.Spain became a testing ground for new weaponry, such as mass bombers as a tactical and terrorizing instrument. Lets hope Syria and its people do not suffer the same fate, apart from the fact that the tried and tested techniques of artillery, aerial, and torture squad assaults are dealing in enough death and destruction as it is.

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