It’s tempting to rubberneck at the catastrophic ruination of Syria the way a child might stand all agog before a presentation of animatronic dinosaurs gobbling each other up like hot dogs at a ball game. It seems so atavistic, like a microcosm of legendary cultural implosions from the distant past, like the Visigoths storming Rome, treating its elegant stone buildings like a quarry, slaking their thirst with ale drunk from petrified skulls.
We live, or at least we think we live, here in the West, in an advanced society. Our every human step and misstep is Instagramed and Photoshopped for the inevitable Facebook share, a public post-mortem that smells really sweet. We’re living in a sci-fi world, a relatively benign one, not the post-apocalyptic kind, but the kind where humanity has figured out how to turn every individual life into a sound and light show for all our friends.
Sure, we drink from the Kool-Aid bowl while the rich tell the powerful which way the wind is blowing and the powerful get that way by keeping one foot in the private sector, but it tastes pretty good and it makes us feel happy. At least we’re not going hungry and it feels like we’re free.
From the climate-controlled safety of our Ikea-designed, Martha-Stewart-coloured homes, the crime that the Assad regime is committing against its own people almost beggars belief. That one man can pound missile after missile on his own people, sending bits of shattered mother and child into the darkened streets of Damascus and Aleppo while the whole world watches, seems almost impossible to achieve in this Youtube world. But there it is, our world does contain some very distinct realities, as the people of DR Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan already knew all too well.
Hundreds of nations are watching from the sidelines as Assad’s refugees pour from the borders of Syria trailing tales of murder and chaos on an epic scale. “Unconfirmed” videos are posted online daily of Assad’s war machine dissecting his own country with all the delicacy of a psychopathic butcher. The rebel forces are not a unified force for “good”, a relative term if ever there was one. Meanwhile the people of Syria are on their knees, begging the rest of the world to save their country from utter destruction, to rescue their remaining children from certain death.
But here in the West, and in China too, and the fortresses of power in Russia, the shackles of Realpolitik and our alienation from our brothers and sisters in that distant, sand-coloured country dictate our response. Our advanced civilizations, our sci-fi world, our gadgets and aspirations and expectations of wealth and advancement are not enough to stop the carnage.
Or so it would appear, because on it goes, day after day, unbelievably and cruelly, while we watch.
In our defense, we know that any intervention we make or support will not guarantee a better future for the people of Syria or for their neighbours in the Middle East. Recent history teaches us that good intentions are not nearly enough, and that in any case one person’s good intentions is another’s cynical play for power and influence…
What if Assad stepped up, assumed responsibility for the social chaos and oppression over which he is presiding, and blew everyone away by declining any longer to be the agent of his people’s’ destruction?
“My fellow Syrians, I come before you today a humbled man, as our country lies in ruins. I’ve said before that I want to end the bloodshed and return peace to Syria. That was for our allies, for the international community. It was a lie, my soul was not involved in those speeches, and you all knew it.
We all must die sometime. A man gets one chance to die well. Watch carefully, I may yet have something to teach you…
The opposition will rule this country. The rebels have won already. We could continue to bomb them, imprison them, contain them. But we cannot defeat them without destroying this country altogether. Syria is the opposition. I see that now, and so does the whole world. I was raised to be uncompromising, to hold onto power at all cost, to rule with an iron fist if need be. But there was no contingency plan for an uprising of this kind. There is still no contingency plan for me. It is still rule, or die. So be it. I choose death for myself, but I choose life for Syria.
I only hope that Syria chooses life also. The rebels will not all be kind. Certainly not to me, but I accept that. They will fight among themselves for power, and demand that you choose sides. The history of our region leads me to fear for the future of this nation, and for its people. I enjoin all the citizens of Syria to do what I have not: seek inspiration from the best the world has to offer. I refer to Nelson Mandela, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, along with the great spiritual leaders, including the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who elevated mercy and love over vengeance and retribution.
Thank you, and wada3an ilal abad.”