For more than a year, Assad has been killing his own people. By official, otherwise known as “conservative” estimates, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives thanks to Assad’s regime. And let’s take a moment to remember what prompted such a crackdown in the first place: some youths wrote some graffiti in Daraa. They asked, in said graffiti, for basic human rights and liberties. Fearing a Libya-style revolution, the Assad government did what it could to strike terror into the population, prompting an even bigger outcry and further demonstrations in various Syrian cities.
Then, of course, Occupy Wall Street came into full swing and during some of the bust-ups crabby police officers threw away some gadgets and a few protesters got pepper sprayed. It was then that Syria was invoked as American 20-somethings declared their allegiance and solidarity with the downtrodden citizens of Syria. For just a brief moment, they felt real empathy and understood a modicum of the pain being felt on the other side of the world. For that moment, oppression to some was truly oppression to us all! It would have been a nice and welcome, albeit hyperbolic, sentiment, had it lasted longer than a week and a half.
Then of course there was the death of a few Western journalists. After a year of almost radio silence from anybody who was not either Libyan or Syrian, all of a sudden folks who had no connection to the small Middle Eastern country were blogging and spreading awareness. That was extremely welcome and it would have also been great, if it had also lasted more than about two weeks.
Syria has become a fad for people who are searching for some shiny new cause to cling to. Now that the UN is involved and Kofi Annan has toured the country—reasoning with a man who has proved himself unreasonable—the world is acting as though some sort of a solution has been reached. Let me be very clear here: any action that results in Bashar al Assad staying in power in Syria is one that will cause further trauma, murder and oppression to the Syrian people. Bashar al Assad must be removed from power.
Imagine for a moment if the president of France, amidst his country’s protests, had shelled Lyon and mass graves had been found in the countryside just outside Paris. Would we continue to recognize him as the rightful leader of France? No. Absolutely not. We would all call for him to step down from power, if not outright demand the use of international forces to remove him from such a post. The world would see him as an illegitimate leader. Yet, we’re still trying to bargain with Assad. “If you stop torturing and arbitrarily arresting your citizens, hey, we’ll stop sanctioning you, how about that? Pretty please with cherries on top?”
It should not depend on China, Iran or Russia, countries that have shown themselves to be supporters of state-sponsored terrorism, if we sanction or punish Syria. I’d even take it a step further, I would say that given the circumstances, the entire world needs to stop recognizing Assad as the leader of Syria. A post he inherited from his daddy, Hafiz, who didn’t even want Bashar to lead—but wanted his much more savvy brother, who happened to die in a car accident. There is no reason Bashar should be seen as a leader by the developed and socially conscious world. He is a murderer. He has commissioned a reign of terror upon his people and while his family enjoys all the luxuries that modern day dictatorships often do. As his family flops about in swimming in pools filled with the blood of the Syrian people—and hey, maybe that’s what keeps his wife Asma’s skin so young and supple, because there’s nothing like the blood of hundreds of dead children to keep that youthful glow about –we are continuing to treat him as if he could somehow be talked down from this ledge of murder and destruction.
It is too late for that. It is too late to treat him as anything more than the killer he is. Defected soldiers in Syria speak of how behind the first line of soldiers who have direct orders to shoot anything that moves, there is another line. A line that is policing the troops and ordered to shoot any soldier that so much as strays from Assad’s demands to kill their fellow brothers and sisters. Those soldiers who have managed to escape tell horrific tales of the atrocities they were forced to visit upon their own country. A quick YouTube search of ShamsTV or other various independent Syrian press outlets show a myriad of terrifying videos. They show babies being murdered, women being beaten and men being shot for doing nothing more than crossing the street. The evidence exists. It is hardly contested. Why are we still sending in diplomatic figures to try to sort out this killer’s dictatorship?
This whole display of international back and forth brings to mind the abusive power cycle. Say a friend came to you with terrible wounds all over her. Burn marks, black eyes, and clear evidence of beatings and torture. Would you then send a level-headed friend into her boyfriend’s house to reason with him? That if you just sat down and talked with this sadistic man, he might promise to stop beating her and everything can go back to being hunky dory again? Nobody thinks that way, and yet here is the UN and Kofi Annan doing this exact thing. They are going to the palaces of a mad man, desperately trying to cling to power by any means necessary, and politely asking if he could just cut it out now because he’s starting to weigh on the world’s collective conscience and that’s sorta annoying and stuff.
In reality, what governments ought to be doing is making public statements that they no longer recognize Bashar al Assad as the legitimate leader of Syria. Which is not to say that they ought to be supporting or giving arms to the FSA or any other militant or oppositional group that has cropped up to fight off the Assad regime. But rescinding official recognition of a murderous dictatorship does not mean one has to then throw their full weight behind a rival. It is, actually, completely fine to back out of the situation completely and let Syrians sort it out themselves. This also goes for Saudi Arabia and Qatar who have called for arming the opposition, no doubt so they can impose their own prerogatives within the struggling nation. That is not what Syria needs.
Instead what the international community could do, if we are going to pretend that we care at all about this situation, is set up relief for refugees. There are tens of thousands in the border towns along Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Even more are trying to leave but are unable thanks to Assad stationing troops along escape routes. These people need proper shelter and water and medications. They need food and teachers and a way to carry on their lives in the most normal way possible. Give to them. Give to the Red Cross and Red Crescent and relief agencies that will supply Syrians both in the country and in refugee camps with water in the coming summer. What the Syrian people need is supplies and goods, not more of the UN’s back and forth diplomatic circle jerks.
Yet actions such as these require that people give a shit. That they translate a feeling into an action and do something outside of themselves to benefit strangers. I’m not saying that everybody should give or that everybody has to care. Some can’t afford it, some have bigger personal problems staring them down, and others even are stuck in much dire circumstances. But let’s at least drop the act then. Let’s at least stop pretending that this is like Libya or Egypt. Syria carries neither the tourist clout of Cairo or the super-scary-villain qualities of Gaddafi. Bashar al Assad is an unimposing, even nerdy-looking guy. His wife looks sweet, their family seems nice. But make no mistake, they are killers. They have no regard for the people of their country and if we sit back and do nothing, they will continue to lead the charge against the citizens of Syria. More mass graves, more children being shot, more arbitrary arrests, more torture sessions, snipers, starving, shelling, and diaspora. More terror and more desperation. All while the international community shrugs their shoulders and wonders why Bashar hasn’t held to his promise to stop the violence, over and over and over again.