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Death and Defiance in Damascus

Thursday February 16, 2012 10:26:33 AM, Aijaz Zaka Syed

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What’s going on in Syria is not a Western or Zionist conspiracy either, as some liberals have persuaded themselves. Syria’s people are fighting for liberation from long decades of tyranny and the world must stand by them.

The longer the world dithers in dealing with Syria, the more innocents it will be guilty of sending to their death


WHEN the history of these interesting times is written, the people of Syria will perhaps take their place right at the top. Of course, the courage and leadership demonstrated by the people of Tunisia and Egypt in challenging the old, ossified order will forever define the Arab Spring. It was their resolve and courage under fire that turned the region around, heralding a democratic dawn that has become a metaphor for change around the world.

However, most inspiring as the epic sacrifices of the people of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen are, they seem to pale against the price being paid right now by the Syrians. They were the late bloomers of the Arab Spring, coming out on the streets diffidently, almost apologetically, much after the tsunami of change set off by Tunisia had turned the region upside down.

Those peaceful and polite Syrian protests acquired an infectious momentum of their own in no time after they provoked the same vicious and casually ruthless response from Bashar Assad that seems to come naturally to all “socialist Arab republics.”

And look what the people of Syria have already been through. It’s nearly a year since they took to the streets and they have offered thousands of lives in their fight against the regime. It is a totally one-sided war — peaceful and defenseless multitudes facing the full power of a pitiless regime.

This lopsided fight looked doomed from the start — even before it had begun. At least, that’s how it had appeared to the rest of the world. However, the Syrians are hanging on in there, fearlessly facing the cowards who call themselves their leaders. They remain steadfast in the face of death and destruction, even as they go about patiently burying their loved ones in scores and hundreds across the country on a daily basis.

And the world watches, horrified — and utterly helpless. So much for the international community and its fine institutions! Where’s the civilized world when it’s needed most? What is the point of institutions like the United Nations when they cannot stop the endless, cold-blooded massacre of a helpless people at the hands of its own rulers and army?

Much has been said about the Western double standards and hypocrisy, including by yours truly. But what Russia and China have just done to torpedo a UN resolution against the killers in Damascus even as the world watches the carnage on television screens is as shameful as what the US and its allies have repeatedly done to protect Israel in the world body. The Russians and Chinese have Syrian blood on their hands. They are guilty by association, just as the West is.

God knows I am no fan of foreign interventions to put out domestic fires, given the long history of Western adventures in the region and around the world. However, when innocents, defenseless people are getting killed in cold blood for demanding what’s their right, the rest of the world cannot remain a mute spectator. It must act and act fast. I am not suggesting another Western adventure a la Iraq and Afghanistan. How about an international peacekeeping force headed by the UN? After all, protecting peace is the world body’s job.

Ideally, this should have been done by the Arab and Islamic world. But there’s nothing ideal about the long divided Muslim world. There should have been a regional or Arab-Muslim peace force, along the lines of the NATO and African Union. But this is perhaps asking too much of those who themselves are critically dependent on others for their protection!

Nevertheless the Arab League, long reproached for its laidback ways, has redeemed itself by reaching out to the besieged people of Syria and repeatedly confronting the killer clique in Damascus that has outdone itself and all such regimes in savagery and brutality. Indeed, the League had abandoned its hallowed tradition of studied indifference and “noninterference” in the affairs of member states when Libya’s Qaddafi diverted all his manic energy and firepower at his disposal to obliterate his people.

Which is what Assad is doing now, eyes wide shut to the fate that befell Qaddafi and other fellow travelers before and after him. The end of this evil regime is a foregone conclusion. But before it crumbles under the weight of its own crimes, it could kill thousands of more innocent and helpless people and totally raze Syria. The scenes of women and children running for their lives — captured in videos posted on YouTube and Aljazeera — as the tanks pound homes in Homs and towns and cities all across the country are heart rending. Are Moscow and Beijing watching?

Indeed, tanks were pounding Bab Amr and other neighborhoods in Homs even as a poker-faced Assad was promising “dialogue” to Russia’s Lavrov. The UN veto seems to have actually fueled the regime’s thirst for Syrian blood, as UN rights chief Navi Pillay suggests.

Where do we go from here? There’s no help coming from the UN. The world body is a pawn in the hands of world powers. It’s not just Russia and China. Even the West doesn’t appear too keen to upset Assad’s applecart for fear of the Islamists replacing the Bathist regime. This will have to be sorted out by Syria’s Arab and Muslim neighbors. The expulsion of Syrian envoys by the Gulf states couldn’t have come sooner.

More effective steps are needed though to stop the carnage, as suggested by Turkey which was the first to stand up to Damascus, just as it had confronted Qaddafi and before him the Israelis. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who has slammed Russia and China for the UN veto, is pushing for the Arab and Muslim states to work with the rest of the world to rein in the regime.

It’s time for Syria’s long time friend and ally Iran to get its act together too. By choosing to look the other way even as Assad decimates his people, Iran has let down all those who have stood by it in the face of Western plots. This is not an issue to be seen from a Sunni-Shiite prism.

Raining death and destruction on a powerless population, this regime is as despicable and criminal, if not more, as Qaddafi’s Libya was. There’s nothing Islamic or Shiite about it. What’s going on in Syria is not a Western or Zionist conspiracy either, as some liberals have persuaded themselves. Syria’s people are fighting for liberation from long decades of tyranny and the world must stand by them.

The longer the world community dithers in dealing with Damascus, the more innocents it will be guilty of sending to their death.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, as Edmund Burke cautioned, is that good men do nothing.


Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf based commentator. Write him at








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