image of jerusalem 2015

Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right!
As my colleague James Abbott often enjoys reminding listeners on our Middle East Analysis podcasts, I am not particularly “into” Twitter.

5 February   |   2015   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

A lot of it is no more than redundant fun for me, and I tend - perhaps wrongly - to use it more as an eccentric pastime than as a serious platform that would help me reach out to the outside world. However, this tool of social media occasionally yields useful dividends for me too.

One of those dividends occurred last weekend when I came across two telling re-tweets! Both a You-Tube link as well as a Washington Post piece focused on quite an adventurous visit this month by Jonathan Tepperman, managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, to Damascus where he interviewed President Bashar Al-Assad.

There have been other journalists - including a few Western ones - who have previously also interviewed the Syrian president. So the fact that he did it was not really the major feat for me. Rather, it was the long trek that took him to Syria via Beirut (with all the behind-the-scenes action) as well as his own assessment and conclusions after the hour-long interview.

But given there are also other bloggers and social media aficionados who never cease to dazzle us with their uninterrupted analyses and prolix viewpoints, why would Jonathan Tepperman’s input impress me so vividly?

Clearly, one answer is that he physically went to the Peoples’ Palace (the presidential dwelling) and spoke to the man who has been at the heart of so much blood and gore over the past four years. It takes guts after all to get to this massive and rectilinear building but it remains in my opinion one of the best methods - especially for a keen eye and knowing mind - of sussing out the state of being of the president.

However, let me digress for a few moments from the interview and share with readers a few spine-chilling statistics from one Syrian site that reflect a gruesome reality today. Just read those figures contemplatively - slowly - and notice the number of zeros.

  • Over 250,000 killed, including some 20,000 children
  • Over 1.1 million injured and thousands maimed
  • Over 11,000 tortured to death
  • Over 5,000 cases of rape & sexual violence
  • Over 250,000 detained
  • Over 13 million displaced
  • Over 2 million properties destroyed

And just to recap, let me also briefly remind readers who have forgotten the history of the Syrian protests that they initially erupted in Daraa (in the south of Syria along the border with Jordan) in March 2011. They were peaceful and consisted then of some schoolchildren drawing anti-regime graffiti on the wall. They then ballooned peacefully, and still without arms, until the regime attempted to crush them with all its brutish might as if the demonstrators were flies - not precious citizens - who had to be swatted away. Such unsparing brutality eventually ‘weaponised’ those protests, neutering the so-called ‘moderate’ albeit hapless and dissonant rebels and then also radicalising the country with the introduction of Al-Qaeda and later Daesh into the overall imbroglio.

Back to Jonathan Tepperman and his piece though! His assessment of the Syrian president is complex. He suggests that Bashar Al-Assad is either in deep denial, is blithely complacent or else is deceptive and mendacious. He also adds that he is unrepentant and not ready for a settlement. Many keen observers of the Syrian scene already suspected - I am eschewing the use of the very ‘knew’ here - that the president has been ably clinging to power despite wreaking so much havoc. What makes it much more painful is that the world community has been flip-flopping in its response to the Syrian crisis, and that some cross-sections of the population, also support the regime.

I have often stated in my interviews or write-ups that the majority of the Syrian population today is caught between a rock and a hard place. There is a regime that has committed untold crimes against its population and would rather destroy the country than hand it over to others who might perhaps - just conceivably - exercise better governance. Then there are those ruthless thugs who belong to various groupings such as Daesh or Al-Nusra rampaging across the country as they kill, behead, abduct and blackmail Syrians or other Arab and foreign nationals. Caught up in the vortex of two extremes, it is the disempowered and broken human mass that is paying the stiff price today. After all, the regime is impervious to suffering and converges with those groups who relish making others suffer too.

Is it not a shame that we in the hard-fought democracies as well as many Arab ‘brothers’ in different countries have allowed Syria to descend into such Stygian depths and devastating un-realities? Yet, despite our knowledge of what the Syrian people have endured over four years, the world has simpered politically just as others have whimpered too, and we have willy-nilly supported one side or the other in our proxy wars as we shielded ourselves and our interests from the fallout. We have used ordinary men, women and children as political dross. And today, we find ourselves staring at those statistics and are in a place where earlier solutions that could have worked are no longer applicable - even if they were still perhaps available - given the amount of blood, rancour, destruction or meltdown.

What am I trying to highlight in this commentary of mine? In fact, I import two messages.

On the one hand, I am suggesting that we should not sweep the ceaseless atrocities of the Syrian regime under the carpet simply because we are also fighting an equally sinister - perhaps even more sinister - foe. Daesh is a threat to us all, and the manner of execution of the Jordanian pilot Moadh Al-Kasasbeh is a most execrable example of its ugliness. However, this new-old reality should not induce us into a sense of torpid security with the regime that has caused so much death and misery in the country. If nothing else, ask yourself this one question: who facilitated and empowered the emergence of Daesh as we know it today? Can we truly ignore those culprits? Tepperman’s sharp mind reinforces the fact that Syria today is facing two equally monstrous, paranoid and coupling evils.

On the other, let us also not blot the appalling statistics on Syria that scream out the colossal - in some sense irredeemable - debt we owe Syrians. Will we ever repay this debt and retrieve some self-respect? Will we manage to salvage a country that has been decimated or are we happy to see it fester even more? If so, do we not risk creating even bigger ogres when - if - we “degrade and ultimately defeat” ISIS as we understand it today?

Supporting one side at the expense of the other is a non-answer for me: as the proverb claims all too well, two wrongs simply don’t make a right - especially in such murky political waters!

This article first appeared as a Commentary in NOW Lebanon on 3 February 2015. It is being reproduced on epektasis with some small modifications and elaborations.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2015   |   5 February


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