‘Be careful what you wish for” will be scribbled on the totalitarian tombstone of the Assad regime. For eight months Bashar has squirmed to justify abominable crimes against peaceful protesters calling for long-overdue reform by obsessively rehashing that he is at war with “armed gangs”. These “bugs” were out to punish him for his “steadfast stance”, he announced to that zoo of appointees that goes by the brazen misnomer of parliament. His official media then went into overdrive as there was a lot to cover up, since mass graves were being uncovered with women and babies in them.
We Syrians have been witness to everything ghoulish in this year of our revolution, which is set to stand as one of history’s rousing exemplars of human courage. The castration of children, and the pulling out of their fingernails; hospitals, schools and football stadiums used to incarcerate more than 60,000 people, as the vast Hades of Assad’s prison system – always standing room only – quickly became packed beyond its own elastic limits; the profiteering of Assad’s shabiha (armed gangs) from a trail of thievery, torture and mayhem; trade in the organs of prisoners; the besieging and communal punishment of entire towns and cities; scorched-earth tactics in the countryside; bombardment of our coastline towns with naval gunships; the use of military planes to shell our inland cities; armoured tanks that are commanded to raze entire neighbourhoods; brutal house-to-house searches to harvest our young men and women; and the outrageous use of municipality rubbish trucks to collect their dear corpses.
As I watch the city of Homs (where many of my school friends have been bombed in their gracious homes or killed in a Syrian city renowned for its fabulous sense of humour and its delicious cheese kunafa) turned into a latter-day Grozny, I curse Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, for helping in its wanton destruction, as he uses his veto to protect murderers, and supplies submarines and state-of-the-art weapons to kill yet more innocent Syrians. We Syrians recognise the type only too well. Vainglorious, brooking no dissent, buoyed up by financial mafias and laying on putrid cold war rhetoric, which leaves us even colder.
Even the affluent neighbourhoods of Damascus are trembling from the onset of winter, because heating fuel has become as scarce as freedom; the regime’s thugs have monopolised its use and are hoarding it, to give the soft, conservative capital a small taste of the discomforts and disasters for which it should brace itself if it joins the rest of the country in revolt – which it is already doing. Rebellious Mu’adamiyya on the outskirts of Damascus, where most of the city’s day labour comes from, has had no electricity or fuel for months, and has seen its impoverished houses emptied of their menfolk, as they are rounded up and taken away to join the 40,000 disappeared or 4,600 dead across the country.
I, for one, can remember a Syria where we bought lupins or myrrh incense or green almonds in our sublime ancient souks, unbothered by the big brother stare of endless Assads; a Syria where religion was still safely lodged in the house where it belonged, along with the wine-coloured prayer rug, the amber rosary and the manuscript Qur’an on its mussadaf stand. A Syria before Jamil Assad – Bashar’s uncle – allowed Iranian officials to enter our borders gleefully with their sackfuls of cash to recompense conversions.
In our recent misery, we have seen Revolutionary Guards aiding and abetting Assad’s torturers and snipers, and Iranian oil and money – needed far more in Iran by its long-suffering people who, like us, must bear the keen whip of totalitarianism and the innumerable privations of grave economic crisis – flowing in to succour Tehran’s political extension in Damascus. A military airport has sprung up on our Syrian coast, financed by Iran, to ease the flying in of those who would sow sectarian discord and hatred by such methods.
The consequences of 40 years of the policies of Hafez al-Assad and then his son Bashar – which turned our national army into a sectarian mafia family’s private militia, and our state’s coffers into that family’s piggy bank to be raided at whim – have been the tit-for-tat sectarian crime that has so revolted the vast majority of Syrians, who have seen post-occupation Iraq martyred by sectarian killing fields, and the government of Lebanon become hostage to an armed state within a state.
As rumours fly around that Bashar has been offered asylum by the UAE, and has allegedly bought property in Dubai for $60m to live in, we see the end in sight for the “banality of evil”. It’s been a long and painful time coming.
By Rana Kabbani, a Syrian writer and broadcaster who lives in London.