Are you horrified by what Bashar Al Assad, the president of Syria, is doing to his own people? Bombing civilians, burning cities and neighborhoods to the ground, killing babies by the thousands, turning millions of Syrians into refugees? When I tell you about his father, you may have to forgive him, for ruthlessness and the determination to hold on to power at all costs is his inheritance. It has been ingrained in him since birth.
His father, Hafez Al Assad, showed how it was done. In 1981, to quash a revolt in the Sunni Muslim city of Hama, his security forces executed at least 350 residents of the city of Hama and injured 600 more. These victims were chosen at random from the male population over the age of 14. The following year, Hafez sent his army to punish the insurgents again. This time he bombed the city by air and used T72 tanks. An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 residents died and over 100,000 were exiled. For this atrocity Syria received only a lame condemnation from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Emboldened, Hafez was finally able turn his sights to expansion overtly and without the pretense of a peace force. The dream of a Greater Syria had long been a cornerstone of his Baath party’s doctrine. To realize the dream, he desperately needed Lebanon. He sent thousands of trained and well-armed PLO fighters to Lebanon to start a war under the guise of religion in 1975. When the PLO failed to conquer the Christian militias militarily, Hafez sent his own army.
During the war between the Syrian army and the various Lebanese Christian militias, Hafez Al Assad’s forces and their allies dropped one million bombs on the civilians in the Christian-defended areas.
Let me give you some perspective. Lebanon is half the size of New Jersey and the Christian militias controlled about a third of it. In other words, one million bombs were dropped on an area the size of Rhode Island. Leave aside for a moment the devastating effect on real estate and infrastructure – tens of thousands of civilians died, The Syrians assassinated every military and political leader they could. They openly pillaged the country and practiced terrorism in all its flavors for thirty-five years.
When Hafez died and Bashar took over in 2000, some naïve Lebanese thought it might get easier. Would having been educated in the United Kingdom make Bashar more human than his father? Not at all. He stayed loyal to his predecessor and continued on the same bloody, repressive path.
Now I see the headlines and the horrified people commenting on social media about the atrocities being committed in Syria. Why now? I wonder. Has the West become more sensitive? Where was everybody when Lebanon was being torn apart for Hafez Al Assad’s Greater Syria ambitions? Are the lives of the displaced and dead Lebanese less valuable than those of the Syrians?
As for who is the more brutal of the two Assads, I leave that up to the historians.