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 :
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:
Google Trends: Assad vs Isis
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 an error message:
“Bashar al-Assad wasn’t searched for often enough to appear on the chart. Try selecting a longer time period.”
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.  Australia 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.
What can you do?
Arm those around you with the facts. Share this with your friends and family.
We have used data from the Syrian Network of Human Rights to put together more infographics, on children, medical workers and media activists. You can view and share them here:
It’s crucial that we get the story right.
James Sadri – The Syria Campaign
 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%.
The Syria Campaign is building an open, global movement working for a peaceful future for Syria. We are people from all over the world who are coming together to tackle what the UN has described as “the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our time”.