Bashar of Syria is a dictator; his father was a dictator. He is a war criminal, and so was his father. It does not take a lot of wit, nor investigations, to reach these conclusions. Bashar's crimes are well documented and eyewitnesses are abundant. Even a quick look at a random sample of the flood of digitized information coming from there, be it this testimony before the European Parliment, this interview with Anderson Cooper or this New York Times piece on journalist Anthony Shadid leaves no doubts about it.
With the proliferation of social media and digital technologies, it is almost impossible anymore to hide crimes at a scale and as cruel as that of the unfolding Syrian tragedy. Journalists are being killed in Syria; Marie Colvin was. Photographers are being slaughtered; Remi Ochlik was. They were heroes, as this CNN report on their deaths shows. They were heroes because they wanted to, and they did, expose the crimes of the hateful, bloodthirsty tyrant.
"The world is not as impressed as it was before the NATO involvement in Libya and the crimes of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) committed against innocent Egyptian civilians."Colvin described what the dictator's media machinery was trying to sell as "complete lie[s]," adding that the Syrian army was "shelling a city [i.e., Homs] of cold, starving civilians." While estimates of casualties range anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000, depending on whom you are talking to, according to sources cited in this Wikipedia page, the question today is not much of how many, but is rather one of why.
Why are Syrians being slaughtered in cold blood? Why it is that the world has waited for so long -- and shockingly enough is still, as of the writing of this article -- unable to stop the massacres? Why is this happening in the 21st century, after all? And how, and if so why, and under what religion, ideology, or code of ethics, is the killing of a single innocent person different from that of 10,000?
The sheer truth is that Syrians are being massacred because they are asking for their freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom to choose their leaders. They were impacted by the wave of anger that is blasting a region that for so long has been governed by a handful of hateful dictators, of whom AlAsad is a worst case in point. They are assaulted, kidnapped and abducted; their bodies are danced over and disfigured merely because they want to lead a life of dignity and dream of the prosperity and security typical of the civilized world.
They also had access to Facebook and Twitter and watched YouTube videos. They saw Tunisians toppling a dictator and Egyptians forcing another to step down and knew they are no less capable of fostering a similar dream. They saw Libyans chanting and Yemenis calling slogans.
In a nutshell, the psychology of revolution works such that protests start at one corner but end in another, and its domino effect did not exclude the Syrians.
"Even though they are not fond of AlAsad, the last thing that rulers of neighboring (semi-) kingdoms in the Arabian Peninsula would like to see is the downfall of yet another ruler."
A difficult problem facing Syrians is that their efforts came at a difficult time, when Egypt and Yemen are in the middle of their struggles, which resulted in receiving only partial media attention (at least initially). It also meant that the sympathies with, and the glamour of, the protests are in the process of fading away. The world is not as impressed as it was before the NATO involvement in Libya and the crimes of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Armed Forces committed against innocent Egyptian civilians.
Another problem is geopolitical and ideological in essence. Syria is a neighbor of Iran, and the Syrian regime has the support of Iran, as the latter sees AlAsad as an ally against potential conflicts with Israel or the rest of the Sunni Muslim world. AlAsad, after all, belongs to a sect that is at odds with the rest of the Muslim world and hence has warm ideological connections with Iran and the allied Hezbollah guerillas.
In addition, even though they are not fond of AlAsad, the last thing that rulers of neighboring (semi-) kingdoms in the Arabian Peninsula would like to see is the downfall of yet another ruler -- they definitely know it is the turn of each of them if things work toward that direction.
Third, Syria is not an oil country, and any trouble happening there is not likely to have global economic ramifications as those that were characteristic of the Libyan case.
Fourth, Syrian opposition has taken long to unite and organize itself. Even to date, there are still signs of disharmony among opposition bodies.
All these reasons have been delaying the progress Syrians are dreaming of. But the biggest dilemma, clearly, is the inability of the rest of the world to stop bloodbaths that is anything but characteristic of civil societies in a 21st century. Quite gloomy and sad, but unfortunately true.
Our world is not yet at a stage even remotely similar to the one hailed by Charlie Chaplin in this prophetic speech in The Great Dictator.
Muhammad Abdul-Mageed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.