By Nedal Alwan
The literal translation of the word “Assad” is lion. But now, when uttered in Arabic, it brings to mind not only images of a wild cat, but for many around the world also images of a savage dictator.
To many, Bashar Al Assad seems to be a heartless monster, who ruthlessly clings to power. People wonder what drives a man to be so power hungry? However, few people realize that Bashar lost control over his life a while ago to very powerful political forces not of his making.
To understand Bashar consider Syria’s recent history. Since World War II, Syria has witnessed many military coups, some regimes lasting only weeks. It has been suggested that the Assads converted to a small sect of Islam, the Shia related Alwaites, to secure the loyalty of the elite, rich of Syria, thereby allowing the Assads to build a strong relationship with Iran. Hafez Al Assad, Bashar’s father and former Syrian president, crushed rebellions and dissent ruthlessly and without hesitation. Living under his father’s long, dark shadow, Bashar is presently trying to do the same ruthless crushing. The problem is that history has changed this Assad game. Bashar’s reaction comes at the wrong time in the wrong place. Now Bashar is livingin the more complex yet optimistic shadow of the Arab Spring. He is a dictator post Tunisia’s Ben Ali, post Egypt’s Mubarak, post Yemen’s Saleh and post Libya’s Gaddafi. The Assad dynasty is vulnerable.
Far from this lion’s den in Damascus, a brighter, more hopeful life for some Syrians can be found in Ayn Al Arab, a predominantly Kurdish city in the north. Ayn Al Arab has declared its autonomy from Damascus after government security forces withdrew. Ayn Al Arab, or, as it is known in Kurdish, Kobane, has been peacefully taken over by the Kurdish Popular Defense Committee. This little town on the Turkish border has had its government and municipality positions filled by the locals who have managed to run the town as normally as possible.
This peaceful transition and maintenance of social stability has brought hope and longing to many Syrians. Syria no longer needs a lion. Syria is not a jungle but country so rich in history and culture that the majority of its people simply long to live without corrupt and violent lions but rather with civic ministers that respect their will and celebrate their diversity and capacity to peacefully coexist and thrive. Syria, and Lebanon as well, should be destinations of global celebration attracting people to their rich cultural heritage and beautiful geography rather than being avoided and pitied as dysfunctional violent and intolerant states continuously at war. So, people of Syria and Lebanon, please JOIN and RECRUIT for 2020 A Year Without War. Your suffering reminds all that war, as a means of conflict resolution, benefits no one and wastes all of our precious resources of life and wealth.
Nedal is a Global Studies student who has been working with 2020 A Year Without War to establish AYWW satellite communities in the Middle East. His first AYWW community is presently under development in Amman, Jordan.