Eugene Robinson, in a recent Washington Post column called the ruler of Syria, Bashar Assad, a "thug." In another column he referred to Assad as "The urbane ophthalmologist-turned-ogre." (I thought that Assad had begun as a computer expert.) In any case, Robinson, who really should know better, is now joined by a vast multitude of the unthinking idealistic because of his belittling, commonplace remarks. Recent media reports, in talking about Assad, have carelessly thrown around references to Munich, the Holocaust, and have used such phrases such as "Assad’s gangster regime," "brute," the "Assad criminal crowd," "The Assad gang," which sounds very much like anti-American Soviet propaganda after WW II.
Much of U.S. media is pro-Israel by conditioned reflex and have been marketing threats that pretend that if we don’t bomb Syria and then, after that, bomb Iran, it will "be the end of civilization as we know it," the same dogma using the same words that Republican Party hacks and party bankers used in 1933 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to get the country off the gold standard. Insults directed at Assad have reached a horrific pitch of intensity.
Why is this happening?
What effect do you desire when you call someone a "thug?" Are you thinking of most of the men in police departments across the United States? They are bulky, tall, menacing, harsh and intimidating in tone and manner. They relish abusing the cowed wrong doers, even in very minor matters. They are armed with guns and tasers. Does that make them thugs?
You don’t learn anything about a wine by recklessly plastering the bottle with new and deriding epithets designed to assassinate its character before you have tasted it. An epithet cannot take the place of descriptive thought, in fact an insult masquerades unsuccessfully as thought only in the mind of the thoughtless. You call someone a moron. That is supposed to finish matters, it is supposed to annihilate, but what it does it describe? Nothing. A moron is a faulty human being. He is like a TV that cannot receive certain channels. Where most people can receive an array of signals that compete and help to refine and expand each other, the moron can only hear or see one. I have known at least a half a dozen murderers, and whatever else they are, they are missing key parts, key ingredients of their make ups. A moron is often a person of a narrow, insensitive mind, a person with cramped sympathies, and an appetite for inflicting suffering because it gives him pleasure. He takes pride in having no conscience. His mind never ranges beyond its needs.
There is a relishing malice behind the use of such a term as "thug" to describe Assad. There is something dark and vindictive in painting Assad in such viciously harsh colors. But of course, he deserves it, you say. He is an enemy of Israel and a friend of Iran. But stop and think of the media’s portrait of him. He has been painted as grim, galling, and pitiless. He is supposed to have the ability and the will to infect and poison things to their very depths. He is a criminal that does not know the meaning of guilt, responsibility and consideration. He is a person of frightful, horrible egotism. He lacks any symptom of a decent conscience, and is addicted to spying, deception, corruption, and atrocity, and entrapment. He is incapable of pangs of conscience, and is without any mitigating or admirable qualities. He is master of a horrific tyranny, head of a crushing and thoughtless machinery of repression. He is an enemy of peace, law, order and an authority, a breaker of the peace. He was put into history as a plague to trouble and torture the decent people of the earth. He has no redeeming deeds, no hopeful and sound qualities to offer the future.
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Basher Assad dissected the hyperbole, the faulty assumptions, the stupid presumptuousness of Rose’s remarks so deftly and with such mental agility, it was like looking on a piece of expert surgery being performed as you watched. Rose was bleeding from a thousand delicate cuts by the time the interview ended, but I doubt if he or his backers ever noticed his wounds.
Rose hurled lethal insults at Assad in a tone meant to hurt, humiliate and offend yet, as evil as he is, Assad turned these arrows aside with ease. Rose, who is a banal character, tried to horrify his listeners with the tale of the Syrian massacre of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982, portraying the event as a one-sided slaughter of the innocents. It sounded like King Herod's killing of the Hebrew newborns after Jesus was born. Rose, of course, a coarse-grained and careless propagandist, left out the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood had first attacked the city’s Baath Party officials. According to several accounts, the MB cut the throats of the families of government workers, murdered policemen, beheaded school teachers who insisted on secular education – as the GIA had done in Algeria in the 1990s, just as Afghan rebels hanged a school teacher and his wife outside Jalalabad in 1980.
Yes, the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood by Assad’s father was horrific. It was done with sickening savagery – the ancient city suffered the agonies of Warsaw in August of 1944 – its old buildings were destroyed and 10,000 people died horribly, the wounded, covered in blood, lying beside their vehicles, starving people hunting numbly for food in the aftermath. Bashar’s father said afterwards, "Nothing is more dangerous to Islam that distorting its meanings and concepts while posing as a Muslim. That is what the criminal Brothers have done. That is what the criminal Brothers are doing. They are killing in the name of Islam…They are butchering children, women, and old people in the name of Islam…"
At the time, Syria was vigorously condemned for its action yet the West was oddly silent when a few years later when the Algerian military basically did the same thing -- killing its own Islamic fundamentalists.
Rose said to Assad’s face that America ranked Assad as one of the worst dictators in history, clumsily hinting like Hitler and Stalin, but this isn’t simply ignorant, intellectually, it’s appalling. Such remarks have no vestige of any sense of intellectual or historical perspective. Let us remember the remark of historian Max Hastings on Stalin: "Joseph Stalin had created within (Soviet borders) the greatest edifice of repression, mass murder and human suffering the world has ever seen."
Does this in any way compare with Assad? Assad is a ruthless authoritarian, but most of the time; America turns a blind eye to such men, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it back all kinds of authoritarians that are capable of serving U.S. interests? Has anyone seen the human rights records of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE recently? And why is that calls for the rule of law are much louder in the Arab Middle East compared to Israel?
In fact, Stalin had so little respect for human life, that to this day, none of the Russian dead from the war have been buried. (Germany is burying 40,000 casualties a year from the Eastern Front, according to recent der Spiegel accounts.)
Let us say so honestly -- Syria is an enemy of Israel. That speaks to the dark heart of the matter. Syrian soldiers fought against the nascent state of Israel in 1948, and then they confronted Israel in 1967, in 1973, and in Lebanon in 1982. In 1967, Israel took the Syrian Golan Heights, and refused to return them. In 1973, under terms of the 1973 postwar ceasefire guidelines, Israel systematically destroyed the Syrian city of Quneitra. After agreeing to the old Bush land-for-peace program, Assad was then being told by the Israelis that they must make peace without the Golan being returned. In 1996, Israel threatened Syria with war six times. When Assad pulled 21,000 troops out of Lebanon to prevent an Israeli attack that autumn, he was accused of being a warmonger. Portrayed as an expansionist state poised to gobble up all of Lebanon, Palestine and even Israel, Syria has in fact contracted. It lost northern Palestine, Lebanon and Transjordan after the First World War. It lost the city of Alexandretta to Turkey in the hope of persuading the Turks to join the allied side in the war against Germany. It has lost the Golan in 1967, as just noted.
Through it all, Israel incessantly spoke of war with Syria, and in 2007 bombed a site which, it said, was being used to develop a nuclear reactor.
I abominate war crimes. I say that with all the force of my soul. But when war comes, let’s face it, human decency flees. The United States has never felt much horror about killing the elderly, the women and the children of our enemies. One has only to remember the bombing of German cities during WW II. We lose any vestige of humanity when war comes. I recall how, in early 1945, when Churchill asked FDR to supply Britain with anthrax bombs to use on the German civilians.
But it is not only in war that decency flees. Decency and a lack of any restraining scruple can flee American political discourse as well. Today, in a Newsmax article that talks of Sen. Rand Paul, the headline reads, "Assad Deserves Death, Obama Keeps Him." Such atrocities of thought and language are truly lamentable.