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Wednesday, 8 June 2011

What's missing from Syria

Skipping lightly over the latest intriguing and potentially disturbing news story about my distant cousin Albert Einstein ("Tell me about your other grandfather," someone once said to Sir Clement Freud, to which Freud responded sonorously: "He was the father of psycho-analysis"), and turning to events in Syria, I've realised what's missing from the Syrian scenario. What's missing is nuclear weapons. The dilemma of deciding how best to respond to events in Syria (today defined by Prime Minister David Cameron as an issue of conscience), would surely be that much more complicated if Syria had a nuclear capability. So let's not shed too many pious tears over Israel's having destroyed that capability before it was built. What would we be doing now if Syria had nuclear arms? That is just one question that I'd like to see answered. Others include:
1. Was Hamza al-Khatib tortured? Although what matters is that he is dead. That is tragic enough in itself. For what it's worth, I think that it is possible that the regime is telling the truth when it says he was not tortured. It doesn't necessarily matter, given that he is dead and that is tragic enough, but what's interesting is how, given Syria's status as the current Crisis of the Week, a tragic case like that of Hamza al-Khatib can be adopted as a cause celebre by the international talkerati, without any dispassionate analysis of what actually happened to him. The story of Muhammad al-Durrah is a sad reminder of how truth is often the first casualty of war.
2. What, in the ongoing Arab Spring, would have been happening today in Iraq if Sadaam Hussein and his regime were still in power? 
3. Who actually are the opposition in Syria? One would like to be optimistic, but who actually are these people?
4. If (and it is a huge if) the disgusting Syrian government is telling the truth about the deaths of so many members of its security forces, then who has killed these people - is this now a civil war?
5. What is President Assad up to with his country's Kurdish community, and is this a serious development, or mere shadow-boxing?
6. Turkey's relationship with Syria is an intriguing onion that is being peeled day-by-day; when the peeling stops - i.e. when some semblance of stability returns to Syria - which layer of the onion's skin will have been reached: a layer that involves bolstering Assad, or a layer that involves planning for what comes after his imminent departure?


  1. Interesting questions, Matthew. It looks like Hamza was tortured. The dismembering of his genitals couldn't have happened any other way, surely? You could also question the alleged deaths that took place on Naqsa day on the border with the Golan. I mean has there been any confirmation and even if there were funerals, who really killed those being buried? There is so much to come out about Syria. As for Sadaam, he would be murdering the shia population en masse right now.

  2. Thanks, Richard. I am sadly willing to accept that Hamza al-Khatib may well have been tortured. Syria has a long, dark record of torturing people. My issue is with this one tragic case becoming emblematic of all the people in the world who might be said to have been tortured, while all of the others remain unreported and in the shadows. None of which undermines the tragedy inherent in what has happened to Hamza al-Khatib.

    I blogged about the events of Naqsa day here: Whatever the precise rights and wrongs of the situation, is anyone seriously denying that Israeli troops used live fire on unarmed demonstrators? They may have had no real alternative but to do that, but are we denying that it happened?