Be shocked. And ask why.
UPDATED: 03 September 2016
For a look at the latest data behind the headlines of what the UN calls the “world’s largest humanitarian crisis” visit: http://whoiskillingciviliansinsyria.org/
As Europe struggles to deal with a surge in refugees, attention is now shifting to Syria where most people are coming from. But what is the violence they’re fleeing?
Many assume that Isis is doing most of the killing, which is partly why so many countries are now talking about bombing Isis in Syria. But the truth is different – and shocking. The vast majority of Syrian civilians killed – more than 95% according to human rights groups – have been killed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Have a look at the data from the Syrian Network for Human Rights:
“One of the barrel bombs fell through a shaft in their home, filling the ventilation with chlorine as it broke open. Their basement became a makeshift gas chamber.” Dr Mohamed Tennari, Idlib province.
“I was captured by the police and put in prison for 22 days. I was tortured and I saw children dying. I’ve got scars on my feet, chest and back. There were hundreds of us in prison – I was in a big cell with the other children. The youngest ones were nine or ten, they had been captured. I was beaten up every day, and they used electricity too.” – Moussa, 15, as told to Save The Children
“It was during Ramadan, when people were fasting, and a plane shot a missile at the hospital, killing a doctor, a nurse, and a baby in an incubator.” Doctor in Kafrnabel, Idlib
“My camera is my weapon against the regime.” Noureddine Hashim, 21. Killed by regime shelling.
“[The regime] ordered me to torture my cousin. I did everything they asked. I beat him with my hands, kicked him with my legs, beating him and saying, ‘I’m sorry.” Inside Assad’s Hospitals of Terror -Vanity Fair
Lots of people respond with astonishment when they see these figures, mostly because they don’t fit with their existing picture of the conflict. Some even say the numbers are lying. They’re not. While no monitoring group claims to have perfect data since their methodology and sources all differ, there appears to be agreement about the proportion of civilians killed by the Assad regime. 
So why do so many of us have such a bad understanding of where the violence is coming from?
Part of the answer may lie in how we hear about the conflict in Syria. The media talks about it increasingly as a “civil war”, a phrase that conjures up images of messy chaos, of various similarly-matched sides fighting each other. Likewise, the United Nations and well-meaning NGOs diligently criticise “all parties to the conflict” which promotes a perception of equal sides – or some sort of balance.
But there’s something else too. Part of the answer may lie in the disproportionate obsession with Isis. Our news is full of stories of Isis horror and brutality, but the larger scale state repression of the Bashar al-Assad regime seems to slip by mostly unreported.
Have a look at Google Trends for news over the past year:
There was 43 times more interest in Isis than there was in Bashar al-Assad. And that’s taking in global internet users.
When we filter by United States only, we get:
Same goes for the UK, France and Germany.
Astonishing. Together we have collectively airbrushed the biggest perpetrator of human rights violations out of the the Syrian conflict – Bashar al-Assad.
Why has the world chosen to ignore Assad’s crimes? Is it because he claims to be a secular leader? Is it because he is clean shaven and wears a suit? Is it because we don’t realise that by ignoring these crimes by the regime, we are becoming recruiting cheerleaders for Isis?
Whatever the reason, the obsession with Isis over Assad bears no relation to their respective levels of violence.
The implications of this skewed focus are serious.
Right now the UK government is debating intervening in Syria to strike Isis. Australian has just started anti-Isis strikes too. France is about to join. Russia has moved a heavy deployment of fighter jets and tanks into Syria to fight alongside Assad. Russia has just days ago agreed to coordinate with Israel on its Syria operations.
And yet nobody, nobody, is doing anything to curtail the biggest killer in Syria by far – the Assad regime and its air war on civilians.
As the United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura said, it is “totally unacceptable that the Syrian airforce attacks its own territory in an indiscriminate way, killing its own citizens. The use of barrel bombs must stop. All evidence shows that the overwhelming majority of the civilian victims in the Syrian conflict have been caused by the use of such indiscriminate aerial weapons.”
All efforts at stopping the violence in Syria will fail unless we understand where it is coming from. The story of the data is unarguable – if we want to stop the killing of civilians in Syria we have to address the Assad regime.
Arm those around you with the facts. Share this with your friends and family:
Connect with Syria’s non-violent activists on Planet Syria who are calling for solidarity from all those around the world who want to stand with them to resist dictatorship and extremism.
Then join the call for a ‘no-fly zone’ from Syria’s impartial rescue workers the White Helmets who operate in non-regime areas rescuing people from under the rubble of attacks.
Finally, if all those numbers about death are getting you down, here’s an inspiring story of hope:
 Nine months ago, data from a separate human rights organisation, the Violations Documentation Center, revealed an almost identical proportion of civilian killing by the regime – 95%.