Robert Fisk on the reality behind Bashar al-Assad's address to the nation
It was sad. It was ridiculous. It was totally out of touch. The thousand Syrian dead (and counting) were, according to President Bashar al-Assad, victims of that well-known Arab animal: the plot, the conspiracy, the "foreign hand", the same dastardly enemy that confronted Mubarak (before he was chucked out) and Ben Ali (before he was chucked out) and Saleh (before he was driven out, wounded, like an animal) and which still supposedly confronts Gaddafi and the Khalifas and, well, Bashar al-Assad.
The idea that the thousands of mourners, the tens of thousands of bereaved Syrians whose sons and brothers and fathers and uncles – and, yes, wives and daughters and mothers – have been gunned down by Assad's Alawi armed gangs and his brother Maher's special forces, are going to be assuaged with a "national dialogue", "consultative meetings" for "a few days", chats between a hundred "personalities" to discuss "mechanisms" after which "dialogue will begin immediately", is not only patronising. It is a sign of just how far the "sea of quietness" in which all dictators live has cut Assad off from the lives of the people he claims to rule.
Assad tells Syrians to be of good cheer. Trust the army. They are your brothers, he tells them. Trust the government. Yes, Assad will rid Syria of corruption – as he and his father promised to do approximately 22 times in their rule. The young Bashar has already undertaken five anti-corruption campaigns – and only last week did his own outrageous cousin agree to give up his billion-dollar business dealings and devote himself to charity. Charity! No wonder the protesters rioted again in Damascus. This wasn't just incredible – in the literal sense of the word – it was insulting to the living and to the dead.
Then came the threats. Those who had spilled blood would be chased down – as if the people of Syrian cities and towns and villages don't know what that means. They were encouraged by the Caliph Bashar to return to their homes where those kindly gunmen and torturers would protect them from the "saboteurs and extremists" who were upsetting their lives by attacking the brave members of the security forces (when they weren't torturing civilians, although that is not what Assad said).
And then there was that wonderful line, that the protesters were suckers, taken in by extremists, used as a "shroud" – a grimly suitable expression, though Assad apparently did not realise it – for the gunmen and murderers who represented a dark hangover of the Muslim Brotherhood uprising of 1982 (another rebellion met with staggering cruelty by Syrian troops loyal to Assad's uncle Rifaat, still happily residing in London of course).
Odd, this. For the "gunman" in the crowd, the "terrorist" using civilians as "human shields" is a myth propagated for decades by the Israeli army when they kill civilians, by the French army in Algeria, by the British Army in Northern Ireland, by Nato forces in Afghanistan. By God, our Bashar is in good company!
It was the same old game. The people are the children, innocent, unaware, taken in by the foreign saboteur's hand while the worldly-wise Assad wants only to save Syria from its enemies. And we are supposed to be surprised when the unarmed men and women of Syria march in the streets yet again to reject this nonsense.
The Independent Tuesday, 21 June 2011