In the past couple of days, I have read some posts and articles stating what a huge mistake it would be to bomb Bashar al-Assad. I tend to agree. Endeavours like the Libyan campaign prove all too clearly that bombing a country does not set it free. I shiver thinking of an aggressive military action.
However, I’m astonished and frankly outraged by the very suggestion that Assad’s regime is not that bad and, all things considered, it’s wiser to support him instead of watching Daesh taking over.
I have some things to say and hope I can deliver my thoughts as clearly and neatly as possible.
1- The narrative of these pieces focus on the West, on its idiosyncrasies, on its past and future mistakes. It tends to demonise Western Countries (and their allies); it denounces the hidden interests – variously defined – behind the urgency of intervention; and so forth. The absence of any will or agency on the part of the Syrian people stands out astonishingly. The Syrian people is a background actor with no line on the script.
2- The Assad regime’s brutality goes largely unnoticed. I deem it very grave. Here, we are talking about 45 years of a horrific regime. Daily, ordinary, life in Syria, was subject to the Mukhabarat’s ubiquity; to the widespread danger of being denounced by an acquaintance, a neighbour, a passer-by; to the very real and tangible danger of being incarcerated without trial for long years; to torture; to massacres… Mustafa Khalifa wrote ‘The Shell’ about his own experience of the Syrian prisons. He was arrested thanks to a tip-off that was never investigated. He spent 12 years in prison. He was tortured. He was put in a cell with some members of the Muslim Brothers and he never got to explain that he could not be a Muslim Brother because, despite his name, he’s a Christian! When in 1982 Hafez al-Assad ordered a massacre in Hama, the beautiful town of norias, and destroyed a mosque where the civilians had taken refuge, hardly no one talked about it. In Deraa, the population went to the streets because the regime had arrested some kids that had written subversive words on a wall. Just three examples out of the many possible. This is Assad’s Syria.
3- Apparently, just two alternative approaches are available: bombing Assad or supporting Assad. No one takes seriously the idea of creating no-fly zones, safe areas and humanitarian corridors to protect the civilians. Protecting the civilians is not on the agenda. Assad bombs Daesh, and this is just fine. No matter the massive destruction that Assad has caused to his own country. How many deaths, how many victims of the barrel bombs or the chemical weapons that he says he doesn’t possess are yet to be counted? Assad is a bastion against Islamic radicalism even though he freed the Islamists from his custody just to create a convenient chaos and be able to say: “See? I am the one fighting the Islamists!”
4- And perhaps most important point that goes back to the first one. The Syrian people say loud and clearly – albeit largely unheard – that they want hurriyya (freedom) and nothing less; they sing “as-shab iurid isqat an-nizam!” (the people want the fall of the regime); Ibrahim Qashoush, from Hama, sang “yalla, irhal ya Bashar!” (come on, Bashar get out) and he was killed for this very reason. There’s no doubt about what the Syrian people want and it’s more than legitimate a request: “We just want freedom!” told me a ticket clerk at Deraa bus station on April 17, 2011. Liberty and dignity. I will never accept this very demand being hushed in the name of the greater good, namely, the destruction of that cancer of Islam called Daesh.
We are terrified by Daesh because it’s a monster that we – both south and north of the Mediterranean – can’t grasp, it is simply too ruthless, too deranged, too inhumane. Also, we – north of the Mediterranean – are terrified by Daesh because we perceive it as a direct and very real threat. (I don’t know if this perception is correct, I still have many doubts about it.) I do know that this hysteria is the reason why we think Daesh is a priority and the reason why we are willing to overlook other demons that do not concern us directly. I believe that, at the end of the day, fleeing and dying because of Assad is not very different from fleeing and dying because of Daesh.