Yassin Al-Haj Saleh
Translated by: Firas Massouh
26 August 2013
There is nothing surprising in the latest massacre by the Syrian regime in Ghouta, Damascus. The massacre has precedents in Dera’a, Karm al-Zaitoon, Houla, Traimseh, Daraya, Jdedat Artouz, Jdedat al-Fadel, and elsewhere. These attacks come on top of constant shelling by the air-force of multiple sites in the country causing dozens of casualties every day, shelling by Scud missiles of Aleppo, Raqqa, Deir Ez-zour and other cities, and prior instances of use of nerve gas in Eastern Ghouta itself (Jobar, Harasta and Douma), Homs and Khan al-Asal. Add to this the unabated torture, rape, and slaughter of innumerable children, women and men, perpetrated in intelligence headquarters across the country. All these violations are documented in chilling testimonies.
We would do well to remember that the latest atrocities follow upon decades of crimes committed against the Syrian people, most notably the massacres in Aleppo, Palmyra and Hama, which claimed the lives of tens of thousands. Meanwhile, there was an ongoing massacre taking place within the walls of the notorious Palmyra Prison.
There is nothing new about the latest massacre then, and nobody should be surprised. The Ba’athist regime has been massacring the Syrian people – both metaphorically and literally – since its rise to power; first by hijacking and perverting the meaning of patriotism, progressiveness, and secularism, then by dehumanizing and stripping away the human rights of those it deemed traitors, reactionaries, or Islamists, and ultimately exterminating them. These patterns have their origins in deep religious and sectarian divides, which have been persistently exploited and inflamed by the regime, and gone un-challenged and un-condemned by Syrian intellectuals who oscillate between compliance, cowardliness, and collusion.
The latest massacre tells us nothing we did not already know: that this tyrannical regime is all too ready to resort to any means necessary, from live ammunition to nerve gas, in order to dispense with “uncivilized traitors and reactionaries”, in order to preserve its system of material, political and symbolic privileges.
There is no room for doubt that the regime is behind the latest massacre. Those who deny the truth are either the regime’s “little fascists” – that is the section of the population that worships the military boot – or its regional and international defenders and allies who justify the regime’s actions as the lesser of all evils. There is also a prevalent reluctance to lay blame amongst a cross-section of Syrian society; a tendency to diffuse responsibility for the current situation, based on the belief that we are all responsible because we each see reality subjectively.
Despite the complex developments in Syria, the emergence of jihadist supranational groups in some areas in the country, and the lawlessness in many of them, the Assad regime remains the main culprit in the nationwide havoc. Before our sick nation can be healed, Assad’s butcher-knife must be yanked clear. The longer we leave this, the more difficult it will become to rescue Syria; the only country that Syrians have.
For two and a half years, Syrians have faced an historic challenge: to transform their political system in order to address their most urgent social and national problems while maintaining their unity. The national degeneration we are witnessing today is directly engendered by the lack of an effective response to this great challenge. The longer we sit idly by the worse things will get; we will see rising numbers of Syrians seeking asylum outside the country, escalating religious extremism, terrorism, crime, and above all the rule of the Shabiha, as well as foreign occupation, namely by Iran. Like Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad’s regime is just another local agent for Iranian hegemony in the region.
We need a united front to ouster this regime. We need to recognize that there will be no end to the bloodshed, destruction, and massacres in Syria unless we bring an end to the regime. The regime is itself an ongoing massacre. We need to agree on this because it is then, and only then, that we can work towards rapprochement amongst Syrians. The only turning point in the Syrian trajectory is regime change, whether through war or negotiations.