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Friday, April 12, 2024

Assad deserves to Pay for his crimes

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock : A demonstration in front of the Beyazit Mosque, in March 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey
© Shutterstock: A global demonstration to mark the first year of the Syrian revolution, in March 2012 in Minneapolis, US

A recent report by the Associated Press (AP) that read “Britain and America are willing to offer the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad safe passage – and even clemency – as part of a diplomatic push to convene a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva” was deeply disturbing.

President Al-Assad does not merit mercy. He’s just as brutal as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić and former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladić on trial for committing genocide and war crimes. For more than a year, his military has been shelling homes with tanks and helicopter gunships mirroring the savagery of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia which had no respect for human life. His army has tortured, killed and dismembered civilians including young children. Millions have been terrorized.

Tens of thousands have been forced to flee to neighboring countries or have been displaced from their homes. Al- Assad may be educated, well-mannered and softly-spoken but beneath the sophisticated veneer, he’s even more monstrous than his father Hafez was.
Imagine the outcry were Karadžić and Mladić to be pardoned; allowing those murderers to go free would be unthinkable. How much more unthinkable would it be for Al-Assad to be rewarded for the horrors he has perpetrated? Brutality must be entrenched in that dynastic family’s genes. I still remember with a shudder how Hafez Al-Assad quelled an uprising in the city of Hama during February 1982. He authorized his brother Rifaat to cleanse the area of defenders at any cost which he did with enthusiasm, ending the lives of up to 40,000, mainly innocents, in the process.

Bashar Al-Assad’s ongoing ruthlessness and cruelty, his indifference to the suffering of his own people at his own hand, shames every Arab. Our brothers and sisters in Syria are crying out to the Arab world for intervention; they are pleading to be saved. Our TV screens have displayed Al-Assad’s handiwork, the tiny bodies of young children massacred by the Alawite ‘Shabiha’ to punish their dissenting parents.

Yet, until now, not a single Arab country has responded to those pleas with practical assistance with the exception of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which, according to the Guardian, are arming and helping to fund the Free Syrian Army. Unfortunately, that’s not enough.

The Free Syrian Army is a defensive force and no match for Al-Assad’s well-trained, well-armed uniformed henchmen.

Providing them with cash and weapons is a start but won’t succeed in tipping the balance in favor of those demanding an end to dictatorship. Such gestures may go some way to salvage our conscience; they may help us sleep better at night. But let’s not fool ourselves. Syria is in the worst crisis in its history. How long will Arab states continue offering its people decorative icing minus the cake? Our inaction is nothing short of shameful. Arabs constantly complain about foreign powers meddling in their affairs but show little inclination to sort out their own problems. They may grumble behind the door but refrain from making controversial decisions or taking bold steps, preferring to show a neutral face to the world. I, for one, feel ashamed that our leaders are good at talking the talk but when push comes to shove rarely walk the walk.

It’s mystifying when we have highly intelligent politicians and strategists, effective armies, air forces and navies, the benefit of cutting-edge technologies and communications systems. We behave as though we’re paralyzed people sitting helplessly while anxiously awaiting Western powers to make decisions on our behalf, just as they did during the earlier part of the 20th century. Those days are long gone. Imperialism is dead.

We’re free and independent now…or are we? If we’re no longer under the thumb of hegemonic powers why do our governments stand on the side lines permitting the US and the UK to get involved in Arab matters? Why should they be empowered to grant an exit to a criminal responsible for slaughter on a massive scale? If we’re too cowardly or weak to manage our own problems we don’t deserve independence; we might as well invite our former occupiers to handle our lives for us. I realize that I might sound cynical but, frankly, I’m reaching the end of my tether. I’ve always referred to myself as a proud Arab but the more I see that we’re still under the heel of the West, I feel less and less pride in being a son of the greater Arab nation.

The only ticket out Al-Assad should get is one-way to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He has forfeited his and his family’s right to negotiate any political transition or participate in UN-sponsored talks.

The only ones with the moral authority to show him mercy are the families of the Syrian victims. Next to him President Mubarak was saintly. It would be unjust for Al-Assad and his fashionable wife to be spotted shopping for Louboutins on the rue Saint Honore in Paris while the former Egyptian leader gasps his last breath behind bars.

It’s worth mentioning that in recent days, the Obama administration has denied that it is contemplating handing the Syrian dictator a free pass but there’s rarely smoke without fire. It’s known that President Obama is under pressure to intervene for humanitarian reasons. It’s also common knowledge that he’s unwilling to confront Al-Assad’s backers Moscow and Beijing that are out to safeguard their regional interests to the detriment of the Syrian people. From Obama’s perspective, permitting Al-Assad to walk off into the sunset, in the way that Ben Ali of Tunisia did, might be a lesser evil.

Before any such seed might sprout, Arab heads of state should send Washington and London an unequivocal message: Keep out! Any dirty laundry in our neighborhood is ours to clean. Else we might as well close our eyes to the tears of Syria’s children, erase the term Arab world from our minds forever more and bow our heads to our masters in Washington and London.

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