It was mere coincidence that I watched an interview with the late Syrian President Amin al-Hafiz (1921-2009), conducted by Ahmad Mansour as a part of his re-run series of Shahed Ala Al-Asr on Al Jazeera network. At the same time, the news of Bashar al-Assad's interview with the Lebanese-British journalist Hala Jabber in the Sunday Times had drawn a lot of attention. What caught my attention was the unashamedly low level of political knowledge and experience that was an overt presence in the statements of both men. When you hear the late Syrian president talk, although the interview was conducted in November 2001, you would think that he, who was once an army general, did not know the first thing about war, not to mention world politics. "He could have eliminated Israel within hours," this was the thrust of one of his statements to Mansour. As for the much younger and more erudite president, with his British medical education and interest in computers and the internet, one has only to listen to his counter questions to Ms. Jaber in the Sunday Times.
Let us read:
Sunday Times: Mr. President, the world looks at Syria and sees a country being destroyed, with at least 70,000 killed, more than 3 million displaced and sectarian divisions being deepened. Many people around the world blame you. What do you say to them? Are you to blame for what’s happened in the country you are leading?
President Assad: Firstly, we cannot talk about the numbers without their names. People who are killed have names. Secondly, why did they die? Where and how were they killed? Who killed them? Armed gangs, terrorist groups, criminals, kidnappers, the army, who?
Sunday Times: I met a seven year old boy in Jordan.
President Assad: A Syrian boy?
Sunday Times: A Syrian boy who had lost an arm and a leg to a missile strike in Herak. Five children in his family had been killed in that explosion. As a father, what can you say to that little boy? Why have so many innocent civilians died in air strikes, army shelling and sometimes, I quote, ‘Shabiha shootings?’
President Assad: What is his name?
Sunday Times: I have his name…I will bring it to you later. (later Al Arabiya network came out with the name as Yasser al-Salamat from the city of Herak).
Both interviews suggest the irrelevance of time, education, learning from history, and reaffirm that dictatorship guarantees the worst governments. Thus no wonder, a president with such dismal level of knowledge and experience continues to armor his way out of every conflict, always starting with homes, cities, towns, bakeries, and yes, cemeteries.
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