The Assad family has reigned over Syria for over 40 years. Their surname means ”lion” and they have ruled like this big beast, tolerating no opposition. Hafes al Assad was the air force commander when he overthrew the previous president. The Ba’ath Party had been in office for some years before Assad assumed the presidential sash. The Assad’s changed the anti-Soviet policy of the Ba’ath Party. The Assad regime did not wish to be dominated by the USSR but went on the adage the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Israel was backed and armed by the United STates. Therefore in order to be able to come anywhere close to matching Israel’s arsenal one needed weapons from the other superpower.
Only the Ba’athist philosophy of secularism was continued with. Assad had little alternative. He belongs to the Alawi. The Alawi are a sect within Shia Islam. In a country that is about 80% Sunni it made no sense not to be a secularist for Assad. If he proposed theocracy then he must try to impose Shia Islam on the Sunni majority and provoke his all but assured overthrow. The Alawi managed to dominate by forging alliance with other groups such as the Christian minority.
I must commend the Assad dynasty where it is due. They eschewed religious puritanism and the oppression of the female half of the population. The economy progressed steadily despite having no natural resources to speak of.
In 1980 the Assad regime crushed a Sunni fundamentalist uprising at Hama. My Orientalist chum Rudolf Entbog says that is one way to deal with terrorism. Simply kill them all. This was ghastly though. I am not talking about what one might optimistically call a clean kill – killing armed men in combat. Islamists tried to surrender and were gunned down. The Ba’athists slew every person they found there armed or unarmed. Let no future generation be around to take revenge. Men, women and children were slaughtered in their thousands by the Ba’athists. Hafez al Assad’s brother is said to have crowed about the number of men killed in this operation – it was under his command.
Syria opposed every peace initiative between Israel and Palestine. She backed Islamists in the shape of Hamas despite being a secular state herself. Opponents of a pro-active Western security policy often stress that secular Arab nationalists and Islamists detest each other. They often over exaggerate this. In reality Islamists and secular Arab nationalists are willing to work together in a common cause. Bashir al Assad was the suicide bombers’ sugar daddy as Saddam was before him.
Syria is oppressive. Dissidents are routinely arrested and beaten up.
I want to see a secular and democratic Syria. The trouble is one may not be able to have one and the other at the same time.
I wish the revolution success. One can tell that Assad is scared which is why he has scrapped the decades old emergency law. He had not time for civil liberty.
No peace with the Zionist entity was their mantra. They would not even dignify their enemy with the name of Israel.
It is in the interests of Bashir al Assad and those of his ilk to keep the conflict going. It allows them to label dissidents as Zionist agents. As a war is going on people are loathe to criticise their leader. It provided Syria with an excuse to maintain a garrison in Lebanon. Assad is also seen as the hard man of Arab nationalism for saying he will never compromise with the Jewish State. Islamists tended not to bother him as they were glad of his unbending hostility to Israel. Syria did have a genuine grievance in that the Golan Heights was wrested from them by Israel in 1967. As Israeli leaders showed no inclination to ever give it back because it was of such strategic value it was not so unreasonable for Syria to maintain an unfriendly posture towards the Israeli Government.
However, I think that Assad will be able to contain the protests. Not a few civilians have been shot dead for peaceful protests. NATO has its hands full in Libya and is not having its efforts crowned with laurels there. NATO will therefore be deeply reluctant to get stuck into another avoidable conflict. The opposition have few or no arms. The security apparatus is loyal. The opposition are not quite rebels. They have not taken control of any towns.
I watched a DVD produced in 2004. It covers 50 years of BBC television news. The plummy accents of the 1950s would strike many as mirthful now. The moral high tone has gone in its previous form. Racialism is the new immorality. Many do not consider themselves moralisers but they are – moralisers on this issue and few others. I agree that racialism is immoral but it depends on how one defines racialism. For much of the BBC racialism is not embracing the pc agenda. Racialism is observing the indisputable fact that the British Africa brought much of Africa from the iron age to the jet age in the space of barely three generations.
The BBC certainly was respected around the world for its impartiality and truthfulness. However, its reputation has been gravely impugned in the past two to three decades.
In this programme the BBC commentator spoke of the South African Government in the 1970s and 1980s. ”Injustice fought a rearguard action.” I agree that apartheid was unjust but it is not for the BBC to make moral judgments. It is to present the facts and then different points of view and then to allow viewers to make up their own mind.
The BBC described IRA actions as ”terrorism.” Again I am heartily in accord with this word in this situation. However, if one is being strictly neutral this is a loaded term.
I recall seeing a grand old man of foreign correspondence reporting undercover from Zimbabwe. He spoke of Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s time as an opponent of the Rhodesian Front. ”He was inspiring” said the white man. To reveal one was a supporter of Mugabe in the 1960s and 1970s is uncontroversial now but it breaks with impartiality.
When Saddam Hussein was arrested the BBC commented ”he has not been tortured.” The assumption being that he might have been.
John Sergeant admits his left wing views in ”Give me ten seconds” his autobiography. He even penned ”Maggie” – a hatchet job on Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. He said he agonised over whether it was moral to send his children to a public school and then he did so.
Jeremy Paxman in The Political Animal said as a schoolboy he stood as a Communist in school elections. I overheard him say he found Enoch Powell’s views repulsive. He said it is difficult not to sympathise with the aims of the Labour Party at its inception. This was also in the Political Animal.
To be fair several of the people on the BBC board have been Conservative politicians.
There were more examples but I cannot think of them now. At least with state media outlets that are no more than mouthpieces for the government of the day one know to treat everything with a fistful of salt. The thing with the BBC is it presents itself as objective, even-handed and authoritative. This means that its more subtle bias is all the more insidious. The prejudice of the liberal-left culture of the majority of BBC seeps out subconsciously.
I do not wish to exaggerate. The BBC’s unfairness is mild. There are many fair and honourable journalists.
I am minded to say that the BBC ought to be privatised. Why should there be a poll tax on those who own TVs all the money going to the BBC even if some viewers literally never watch the BBC or listen to BBC radio? So much of what the BBC does is entertainment. Leave it to the market. They paid Jonathan Ross millions. It is frankly immoral to do this on licence payers money. Alan Yentob says BBC personnel are underpaid and could get way more elsewhere – well let them do it. Stop celerity hunting on huge fees. Stop poaching news readers from other channels but offering them huge pay rises. This is what makes me angry. It is doubtful that these people they poach are any better than someone who would do the jo for a fraction of the salary. Even if the big salary earners are betters – so what? They are not worth the money, not that much better than the mere mortals.
As for culturally worthy programmes that are not commercially viable well if people like these programmes enough they will pay for them. Let us have patrons of the arts more. Many high brow American channels beg for donations and get them. It is wrong to compel people to hand over their hard-earned pennies to the BBC. I am fairly intellectually snobbish myself but I do not think it right to force those with more demotic tastes to subsidise my cultural pleasures.