Aplomb Asad?
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Politics and Activism

Aplomb Asad?

Reformer to Resurrectionist

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Aplomb Asad?
EP


On the fourth of April, made-in-Russia Sukhoi jets broke the sky over the village of Khan Sheikhoun, releasing Sarin onto unsuspecting Syrians--the life was choked out of them in their homes and in the street. Recent developments on the political landscape must be understood to put the massacre into context. In the last few weeks, the Syrian opposition took back swaths of land from the Islamic State (IS) in Syria’s southern desert and no less than 8 villages in Hama province from regime forces. Combined with the Trump administration's green light, when Nikki Haley stated that U.S. policy was no longer to "get Asad out," the regime was emboldened to launch the chemical strike. The gas attack could be described no other way than a wet job, a hit; it was a reprisal for the rebels' successes. The use of chemical weapons sent a two-fold message: international norms have forsaken the Syrian opposition; even the most savage methods of war will be tolerated by the rest of the world. Therefore, fighting is futile--the more you fight, the more children will die. Such thuggery is anticipated of a regime that is too weak to force revolution to submit, and too strong to be overthrown. Clinging to straws, the Baathists desperately hope that terror and violence can continued to be relied on. In the wake of the US strikes on the al-Shayrat military airfield (which still operates today) and the destruction of roughly 20 jets, Stop-the-War liberals and alt-right isolationists have joined forces in condemnation of U.S. actions against the Baathist state. The call for a "political solution to the conflict" has been amplified, a phrase which has grown trite and flat on Syrian ears.

There have been three major ceasefires, all of which have both been ineffectual and eventually have failed. There have been countless efforts to investigate crimes against humanity, but such attempts have been blocked by Russia and China; even formal declarations reproaching the Syrian Baathist state have been vetoed.

Some conspiracy theorists are incredulous that a government would really gas “its own people” and flat out refuse to believe that the attack occurred. Others, nose in the air, claim Tuesday’s tragedy as a false flag attack instigated by the Qaidist rebels, the Jews or the CIA (or all three). On both sides of the aisle, these narratives reference the removal of CW (chemical weapons) stockpiles in 2013. In the wake of several chemical attacks perpetrated by the Syrian regime, killing upwards of a thousand, the Obama administration threatened the Asads with military intervention, an action which prompted the government’s agreement to a UN lead inspection. A number of CWs were found and disposed of. Of course, in a country as large as Syria, to confirm the absence not only of CWs but precursor ingredients and the facilities to manufacture them in, only an inspection resembling an occupation, with armed guards and free-reign, would provide a certain verdict. This is not what happened; the process was that of verification, not inspection. The Asad regime declared x number of CW stockpiles in a, b and c locations--these would be where inspectors would find the weapons to be confiscated. Perhaps the regime simply hid CWs from the inspectors, maybe all stockpiles were in fact divulged and weapons destroyed, but the government retained the precursor chemicals to produce new weapons as well as the technical know-how and the facilities to do so. In any case, this is not the last we’ve seen of chemical death; just the other day the regime hit Idlib province with a barrage of white phosphorus and napalm. Furthermore, Chlorine, as an industrial chemical, is not classified as a CW. Any Syrian, however, knows it can and has been converted by the regime into an agent delivered by barrel bomb, on impact poisoning its recipients. This method is incredibly cheap with devastating effect, without the wholesale destruction of a bomb; it is used routinely on civilian and rebel targets. All of this neglects the mass amount of damage, and the vast majority of deaths, that come from conventional weapons--vacuum bombs, airstrikes and artillery obliterate buildings and kill more than the chemical attacks a hundred times over.

After Tuesday’s massacre, in an interview believed to be conducted days before, Bashar al-Asad released the statement that "victory is the only option in Syria." In similar fashion, the Syrian president, years ago, proclaimed that he would oversee a political transition, while as offering himself as a candidate.

Can the regime be called to capitulate? Would they agree to a power-sharing arrangement or even the smallest concessions? It is plain incorrect to assert that these questions have not been at the forefront of diplomats' and statesmen's minds and action. Still, after six long years and an estimated half a million deaths, politicians persist to mull over a diplomatic resolution.

An old Syrian phrase should center our vision--al Asad il al abad: the Asads, forever. Here lies the very foundation of the regime's mentality.

Before the rallies and chants that swept Syria, there occurred a culminating resistance in the country’s capital: the Damascus Spring of 2003. This event was the product of burgeoning forces from around 40 years of complete control over every aspect of private and public Syrian life. After a long wait, the pressure was eased beginning in 1998; the Baathist state was transitioning from Hafez al-Asad to his son, the current president. State repression was slowly beginning to draw back. The presidential seat was actually supposed to be handed over to Bashar’s brother, Bassel, who was killed in a car crash some time before. Young Bashar, if one cannot tell by looking at him, was a timid child and was sapped from birth of any vigor for politics. He had instead opted for the medical field, graduated from Damascus University and started work as an army doctor. Years later he studied ophthalmology in the UK, spoke English fluently and even, in a proud show of multiculturalism, married a Sunni woman (the Asads are a regime based on a religious minority of a national minority--Shi’a Alawis). So, when the wimpish new face appeared, change was in the air. There proved to be a crack in the system and Syrians saw hope in an otherwise glum situation. Bashar al-Asad had indeed made promises to reform the country, and for a period of time he delivered. However, the changes that took place were incremental, as well as temporary.

The Damascus Spring was marked by the emergence of salons and forums. In these, oppositionists and even regime supporters would meet to discuss and debate the future of their country. Long-standing members of the Syrian opposition were influential in vitalizing the movement; invited to meetings were members of the Syrian Communist Party and reform-minded Baathists alike. The manifesto of the Spring was the “statement of the 99”, signed by that punctuating sum of Syrian intellectuals.

Democracy and human rights today constitute a common humanitarian language, gathering and uniting peoples' hopes in seeking a better future. And even if some countries are using our [current] predicament in order to pass along their political views, ideas and interests, interaction among nations need not result in domination and political dictation. It was allowed for our people in the past and they will be allowed in the future to be influenced by the experiences of others and at the same time add their own input, thereby developing their own distinctiveness with openness.

As Syria enters the 21st century, it is in need for all of its citizens to join forces to face the challenges posed by peace, modernization and opening up to the outside world. And for this, our people is invited like no other time to participate in the making of Syria's present and future.

From this subjective need, and in order to secure our national unity, believing that the future of our country cannot be dictated, being citizens in a republican system where everybody has the right to express themselves freely, we, the undersigned, call upon the state to implement the following demands:

  • End the state of emergency and martial law being applied in Syria since 1963,
  • Issue a public pardon to all political detainees and those who are pursued for their political ideas and allow the return of all deportees and exiled citizens,
  • Establish a rule of law that will recognize freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of expression
  • Free public life from the laws, constraints and various forms of surveillance imposed on it, allowing citizens to express their various interests within a framework of social harmony and peaceful [economic] competition and enable all to participate in the development and prosperity of the country.

No reforms, whether economic, administrative or judicial, will lead to security and stability if not fully accompanied by and [implemented] side by side with desired political reform because it is the only means of helping our society reach a peaceful shore.

No demand for regime change, no gun-point hostage taking, no chants for Bashar’s ouster, nothing but amendment and adjustment. In what seems to be an obvious mockery of the declaration for change, the regime implemented several renovations to the status quo. Syria was overhauled by neoliberal “reforms”. Welfare provisions were eviscerated, industry deregulated and an austerity, while reinvigorating the totalitarian, regime was imposed. Whether or not the Baathist state could increase its parasitism on Syrian society seemed a dare to the new order, a challenge which Bashar and his brother Maher took up with glee. Economic liberalization tore open the lid of a pandora’s box; in need of work, whole populations of people were forced from their homes to the capital centers of the country, dozens of villages and towns were completely evacuated. Income disparity and unemployment, notably among the youth, rose dramatically. Putting the icing on the cake, money was redistributed from the poor to the pockets of the political elite, the Mukhabarat (secret police) and ranked military officials. In an impressive show of multitasking, as Fouad Ajami wrote, “the dictatorship alternated savage violence with promises of reform.” The regime attempted to strengthen its security and prolong its grip on Syria by appealing to the western powers who had just deposed the Asads' long-time Baathist rival, Saddam Hussein. By transitioning from the state capitalism of national socialism (fascism) to neoliberalism, the regime thought it might ally with the west, ensuring the truth of the old phrase. Of course historical irony had its moment, profound and tragic as it was; in the pursuit for stability, the state created the very conditions which would precipitate revolution. By immiserating society, which the Baathists had spent half a century humiliating and torturing, they had burnt the last bridge of peace and reform.

However, for a time at least, the regime took out another mortgage on their rule. A mortgage paid back in the blood of innumerable nameless corpses, piled onto festering stacks of human refuse, in the bathrooms of military hospitals and the cells of Mukhabarat prisons.

Syrians, by the advent of 2011, had made a choice between two options, neither of them particularly desirable. Revolution or capitulation. A majority of Syrians didn't take part in the revolution, this is certainly true. Many experienced first hand what happens to those even suspected of thinking of dissent. However, those who revolted, who took up arms against this disgusting tyranny, not only had every right to but in many ways were given no other option.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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