x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Assad's apologists cling to the lies of a crumbling regime

In Syria and elsewhere, those who still take the side of Bashar Al Assad will have a lot to answer to his victims, and to their own consciences.

It was the moment when, I would imagine, most right-minded people's irony meter ceased to function.

Last week, as the world once again watched helplessly as Israel pounded Gaza and killed 25 people, support for Palestinians came from an unwanted (perhaps the only unwanted) source. Syria "roundly condemns Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and urges the international community to undertake urgent steps," said a foreign ministry statement from Damascus. It went on to reaffirm "Syria's support for the people of Gaza".

Every Palestinian should be offended by the statement. Indeed, Hamas, Syria's long-time Palestinian ally, has already turned its back on the regime.

And yet, the Syrian ministry's absurd statement fits a long-standing pattern. Damascus has always tried to portray itself as a defender of Palestinians, exploiting their grievances to mask its own injustices against the Syrian people.

It is only in the past year that this narrative has fallen apart. On Tuesday, high level defections included two generals and Abdel Majid Barakat, a senior Baathist adviser. Mr Barakat has leaked extensive documents from within the regime to Al Jazeera, exposing a paranoid regime bent on repression by any means and a leader in Bashar Al Assad deluded by the lies of his own security chiefs.

Those revelations followed leaked emails published in The Guardian showing the Assad family and a narrow inner circle completely out of touch, or at least turning a blind eye to what is happening in Homs, Hama and, increasingly, on their own doorstep in Damascus.

We see how deluded the leaders in Damascus are, but how do we explain the support they still receive from those outside that cocoon?

Foreign military intervention, or the arming of the opposition, is fraught with complications, both morally and tactically. Most Alawites, and many from other minority groups, support the Baathist regime for fear of what comes after.

The example of post-Qaddafi Libya shows that if and when the rebels topple the Assad regime, forgiveness for its supporters, at home and abroad, is unlikely to be in plentiful supply.

There are reasons why many inside Syria have remained quiet. Support from sections of the middle class, who fear economic turmoil if the regime collapses, is understandable from a narrow pragmatic point of view. Indeed, many Syrians, regardless of class or religion, rightly fear for their own and their families' safety.

But what of Syrian expatriates, and indeed the other Arabs, who continue to support the regime despite undeniable evidence of massacres and atrocities?

Their shameful narrative is one Arabs used to justify tyrannical regimes for the last five decades: "Better the devil you know," some still argue.

The cost is a betrayal of Syrians. One of my acquaintances, a 30-something Arab woman, believes the shelling of Homs, like the 1982 Hama massacre, was necessary for the long-term stability of the country. The sooner "terrorists" are dealt with, she says, the sooner Syria can get back to normal.

An elderly Syrian writer in the UAE has justified the massacres by saying they were necessary to avoid sectarian strife spilling over into neighbouring countries.

Another elderly Syrian was happy to perpetuate the tired myth that protests are the work of sinister western forces. There are many others.

Some of this is fear, or old loyalties and enmities. In other cases, it is a belief in the Assad lies. While social media are dominated by anti-Assad sentiment, both Facebook and Twitter are home to posts that blame Arab leaders for ignoring the Palestinians to focus on Syria.

These apologists are complicit in the regime's violence by excusing it. But the tide is turning. The recent defections show that even some of the president's closest allies can no longer stand by and watch the murders.

This may lead to more violence, as nine generals have now joined the Syrian Free Army. Better by far however would be for observers to stop parroting the regime's lies.

The delusion plays into the hands of a regime that demands unconditional trust, but trusts no one. Perhaps the apologists are simply hedging their bets as they wait for an eventual winner. Or maybe it's just moral cowardice. Either way, their support of the murders of men, women and children comes at a heavy price: their humanity.

Assad apologists should acquaint themselves with the words of Martin Niemöller, the German Lutheran pastor who criticised intellectuals in his country for their passivity following the Nazis rise to power:

 

First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.

 

This regime will almost surely fall. Only then, will those who are quiet about Mr Al Assad's crimes realise the monster they have tacitly supported.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @AliKhaled_