Sunday, June 17, 2012

Syria: Mourning in Silence

One memorable photograph of  my visit to Syria in 2008, is the stunning panoramic view of Salaheddine's fortress, the castle that always tickled my childhood imagination as we drove up from Lattakia to my grandfather's modest summer house in Slenfeh.  I took the photograph from the ridge across the valley from the fortress at the edge of the town of Haffeh.  I remember it then as an ordinary, modest mountain town. Slenfeh, in turn has become unrecognizable.  With its swanky villas and a presidential retreat -the former villa of the French governor of Lattakia- it has become the summer playground of Syria's elite. Little did I know what awaited the people of Haffeh four years later. While the stench of death and destruction now fills the air in Haffeh, it is safe to say that the air in Slenfeh remains fresh and the villas untouched..

I have not written much lately because I find little left to say that has not been said before.  How many ways can one express outrage and disgust at the escalating barbarity of the regime? how many ways can one express sorrow and sadness at the loss of life and despair at the enormity of the physical destruction and destruction of whole communities? So I mourn, get outraged and despair in silence. Mixed in with the sorrow I am also brimming with pride at the unbelievable courage, tenacity and intelligence of the young Syrian peaceful civic activists whose work is overshadowed by the macabre carnival of violence and destruction put on by the Assad regime.  When the regime makes its final exit, as it surely will, I want these activists to have a major influence over the shape of the new Syria.

Waiting for the upcoming demise of the Assad dynasty is proving to be excruciatingly painful. Not only is the regime's fight to the death self-destructive, their incitement of sectarian hatred spells disaster for their own Alawite community.  The word civil war has been tossed around and rejected by regime and opposition.  The reality is that if it is not already, a couple more Houla-like massacres and we are there.  The depravity of violence is starting to remind me of Beirut in 1975.  The breakdown of law and order rests squarely on the shoulders of the regime.  From the very beginning of the uprising their use of the Shabiha to create havoc among the population offered them deniability all the while conveniently blaming foreign armed terrorists.  But as the government loses control to territory, regime violence could be replaced by other types of violence. While I trust army deserters to maintain some discipline among their ranks,  there will certainly be armed criminal as well as armed freelancers with grudges and no scruples who will behave as despicably as the Shabiha.  When this starts to happen on a large scale, then we got ourselves a civil war.

Whether Syria descends into civil war depends on how long the conflict continues before the Assad regime is  toppled.  The Assad regime bares full responsibility for this eventuality for they are the only ones who could, if they chose to, organize an orderly transition of power.  Delaying this eventuality by sustaining the regime are their enablers, Russia, China and those leftists, Arab and otherwise, who believe that regime's claim to the mantle of "resistance" somehow excuses their slaughter of their own people.