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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Syrians who have become indifferent to injustice

The Syrians who have become indifferent to injustice

The dismissive attitude of some Syrians perpetuates the country's state of denial over the oppression being suffered,

Syria's President al-Assad
Syria's President al-Assad - 'Sometimes the story is that President Bashar al-Assad is good but those around him are inept.'
Photograph: Khaled Al Hariri/Reuters

Imagine heading towards the airport so that you can get back to work after a week's holiday. The man at the check-in desk looks at you then calls out for somebody and, before you realise, you are hauled off by some men in leather jackets to an unknown location. You manage to call your brother to tell him what happened, and he catches a glimpse of you before you are spirited away to a notorious detention centre where you are probably going to be tortured.

On 12 May this is precisely what happened to 29-year-old Amjad Baiazy, a Syrian citizen resident in the United Kingdom who was on his way back to London after seeing his family for a week.

His arrest, his family were later told, was for "inciting revolution from abroad" – a ridiculous and vague charge that would probably see every university student in the western world behind bars if it were ever applied by a real court. Welcome to Syria, where the rules of common sense and judicial process don't apply.

Over the past two months I have seen my country degenerate, if that term can even apply to a country under dictatorship for more than 40 years, into something worse than a banana republic.

But even more disturbing to me than the fact that we are being oppressed violently is the dismissive attitude that many Syrians I know, both in the UK and back in Syria, have towards the treatment of the protesters. They are considered to be saboteurs, riff-raff or even nonexistent.

Sometimes the story is that President Bashar al-Assad is good but those around him are inept; other times the story they give is that Syria is the victim of a nefarious Zionist plot. But never, ever, must we contemplate that ordinary Syrians are simply fed up with the lack of political freedoms, dignity or accountability that are now the norm in Assad's Syria. It is incomprehensible to them that Arabs can rejoin history, and the world, by becoming agents for their own change.

I find myself wondering how it is that an entire nation can be in such a state of denial, as if we are living that old film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and everybody is no longer the same person.

One clue lies in some of the horrific videos taken by members of the security forces using mobile phones. In one video from the village of Beyda, security men are seen stomping and beating unarmed men who had been bound and were lying on the ground. The soldiers cheer happily and have normal conversations with each other while they kick and punch the men, hurling insults at them.

In another video I see the bodies of three men who have had their brains blown out after allegedly trying to smuggle food tins and biscuits into the besieged town of Deraa. The cameraman jokes to his friends while focusing on what he calls "the brains of the saboteur".

Dorothy Parvaz, the al-Jazeera journalist who was held incommunicado in Syria for three days before being deported to Iran, recounted seeing the abuse and questioning of a prisoner by the prison guard. There was no sense or reason for the abuse, she recalled, it was just a motion to be gone through. Such normalcy amid horror only increases my revulsion – for this, in all its horrifying clarity, is the embodiment of Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil". I have come to the realisation that parts of Syrian society have now suffered that most horrible of all moral ills: they are indifferent to injustice. Ironically, this same part of Syrian society was indifferent, until recently, to what is happening in Palestine, or to the occupied Golan heights.

After 40 years of quiet on the border with these mountains, the Syrian government allows busloads of youth to cross over minefields to free our beloved Palestine. How opportune.

I will probably be accused of giving only a partial picture to what is happening in Syria, or perhaps a more enterprising member of Syria's network of informants within the UK will spread rumours to the effect that I am a member of the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (I am not), or that I am receiving funds from western intelligence services, or Saudi intelligence services, or perhaps that my pet poodle is gay (none of these are true and I do not have a pet poodle).

But that does not matter, for while many Syrians in the United Kingdom are presently fearful of voicing their criticism in the face of the insanity and evil that we are witnessing in our homeland, many more Syrians are no longer afraid. If I speak, other Syrians might also be encouraged to add their voice. Then maybe, perhaps maybe, we can all tear down this edifice of lies that we call a country and start building a home for all Syrians and not just some. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

The Syrians who have become indifferent to injustice | Fadwa al-Hatem |

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