Before Syria was turned into a nation of ghosts and nightmares, before millions of Syrians were dispersed into the unknown and before hundreds of thousands were brutally killed, there was an honest, nonviolent uprising in Syria.
There was also dictator who spoke calmly to the media, pretending to believe in reforms when he spoke to the Wall Street Journal a week before a few brave Syrians dared to stage the first protest against him and his regime.
“For us, you cannot put the horses before the carriage. If you want to start, you have to start with 1, 2, 3, 4… you cannot start with 6 and then go back to one. For me, number (1) is what I have just mentioned: how to upgrade the whole society” he said.
Gassing your own people to shut down dissent as Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad did before and now Bashar al-Assad is accused of doing, is a definite point of no return.Octavia Nasr
As we face a brand new phase, in what has become a multinational crisis that threatens not just the Middle East but crosses borders and continents to bring back a modern-day Cold War that might not be as cold as its predecessor, it is high time we understand how we reached this point.
Let us stress at this turning point that although it won’t make any difference now, the Syrian uprising was brave in its nonviolence and had very good chances of success had it been supported properly and consistently by the region and the world. Instead, Mr. Assad knew to jump to “6” in his own version of “reform” anytime he wanted, which meant raising the pressure on dissent, cracking down on protesters, arresting them and even killing them while destroying the entire country and exterminating entire villages. In other words, doing everything he could to suppress anything and anyone in his way. He even went to 7, 8, 9 and 10 all the way back to below 0 from there. In other words, doing everything he can to suppress anything and anyone in his opposition. The world watched as more lethal elements entered into the mix and the situation became even more complex and more impossible to handle.
You see, when a leader gases his own people, there is no point of return. People ask “what is the difference between killing your people using conventional warfare and killing them with weapons of mass destruction?” It’s a fair question, but when you’re willing to annihilate, you’re playing god, you have no remorse and there is nothing that will stop you after that… Absolutely nothing! Gassing your own people to shut down dissent as Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad did before and now Bashar al-Assad is accused of doing, is a definite point of no return. After that, you can only expect their behavior to become more violent and more lethal in an effort to protect their position.
In supporting Bashar al-Assad after everything he has done in the past three years, Russia shows desperation that spells very bad news for the region. This means that the Middle East is going further towards more extremism rather than moderation, more crackdown rather than dialogue and inclusion. The already hardened positions will get harder and the fighting will get bloodier, deadlier and won’t exclude anyone.
This brings me back to Syria’s chemical weapons which Bashar al-Assad only recently admitted to having. This admission is meant to simply derail and delay his ultimate disgraceful fall. When Israel bombed “suspected chemical weapons” facilities within Syria in 2009, Assad denied having them. When Israel bombed several Syrian and Iranian convoys “suspected of carrying chemical warfare agents to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Assad also indirectly denied and the world pretended it did not happen. Now, if we look back and read some dictatorial bloody minds, unafraid and seeking annihilation, Assad’s “1, 2, 3, 4…” makes perfect sense. With Israel’s known weapons of mass destruction arsenal also ready for use, and warmongers on all sides, the possible scenarios are bleak.
This innocent game of hide and seek that children play around their neighborhoods to pass time, is also an eternal dictatorial tactic with aims of genocide, and one reason too many to be pessimistic and afraid of the future!
This article was first published in Lebanon-based Annahar on September 17, 2013.
Multi-award-winning journalist Octavia Nasr served as CNN’s senior editor of Middle Eastern affairs, and is regarded as one of the pioneers of the use of social media in traditional media. She moved to CNN in 1990, but was dismissed in 2010 after tweeting her sorrow at the death of Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fadlallah. Nasr now runs her own firm, Bridges Media Consulting, whose main aim is to help companies better leverage the use of social networks.