What The Ophthalmologist Cannot See

The ophthalmologist is said to be quiet and reserved. He is well-educated and multi-lingual. His high school education was conducted in French and Arabic; his medical degree was studied in Turkey and his specialism pursued in London. He had little or no interest in his family business, later claiming that he only once visited his father’s office when growing up, and never had a business conversation with him. This seems believable. Had he been interested in the family business, dentistry might have been a more obvious line of study than ophthalmology, for the family business is torture. The ophthalmologist is Bashar al-Assad, the present dictator of Syria.

In the way of political dynasties, things do not always go to plan. Like Rajiv Gandhi and JFK, Bashar found himself in the line of inheritance due to the death of his brother. But in Syria, a political career is not as benign as in India or the US. Torture, terrorism and murder are the principal modes of political discourse.

After twelve years as a dictator, Assad still doesn’t seem comfortable in the role. Genuine seeming – though not fully authenticated – emails from Assad and his glamorous British wife – have been leaked to the media. Assad drifts between denial, willful blindness, and simple lack of interest in politics. His emails reveal advice from the Iranians about how to hide protests against his regime. The Emir of Qatar’s daughter tried to encourage the Assads to leave Syria and move to Qatar. We also learn that Bashar has evaded sanctions by setting up a fake identity in the US, in order to download country music from iTunes. He seems genuinely to love his wife. He ridicules his own proposals offering compromise to the rebels.

Assad’s willful blindness is hiding from him the situation in his country. It is beyond belief that he can ever restore any modicum of stability. The old days are gone. The ability to hide the truth from people is gone. The fear is gone. He can gain ground in his war on freedom. He can even commit genocide. But he cannot restore the comfortable life to which he has become accustomed. If he stays in Syria, then one day he will be killed by the Syrian people. Whether he is shot, like Gadhafi, hanged, like Saddam, kicked to death, like Mussolini, or takes the coward’s way out, like Hitler, is of little moment. Vengeance will catch up with him.

If he wishes to avoid this fate and live out the several decades that a natural death will probably accord him, he has no choice but to leave Syria. There may still be countries which would allow him to retire in some comfort. Qatar may be one of them. His other alternative is The Hague. The International Criminal Court will, of course, convict him of multiple crimes against humanity, but it does not administer a death sentence.

It would seem sensible to explore those retirement options, because the choice between life imprisonment in Holland and the death penalty in Syria does not seem a very attractive one. Byron wrote “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,”, but that poem ends “The might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.” Substitute ‘digital media’ for ‘the Lord’ and that seems to be about right.


Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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