3
Jun

By David Brooks

By now you have probably heard about Hamza Ali al-Khateeb. He was the 13-year-old Syrian boy who tagged along at an antigovernment protest in the town of Saida on April 29. He was arrested that day, and the police returned his mutilated body to his family a month later. While in custody, he had apparently been burned, beaten, lacerated and given electroshocks. His jaw and kneecaps were shattered. He was shot in both arms. When his father saw the state of Hamza’s body, he passed out.

The family bravely put video evidence of the torture on the Internet, and Hamza’s martyrdom has rallied the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist regime. But, of course, his torture didn’t come out of nowhere. The regime’s defining act of brutality was the Hama massacre in 1982 when then-President Hafez al-Assad had more than 10,000 Syrians murdered. The U.S. government has designated Syria a state sponsor of terror for 30 consecutive years. The State Department’s Human Rights Report has described the regime’s habitual torture techniques, including pulling out fingernails, burning genitals, hyperextending the spine, bending the body around the frame of a wheel while whipping the victim and so on.

Over the past several weeks, Bashar al-Assad’s regime has killed more than 1,000 protesters and jailed at least 10,000 more, according to Syrian human rights groups. Human Rights Watch has described crimes against humanity in the town of Dara’a, where boys have been mutilated and men massacred.

All governments do bad things, and Middle East dictatorships do more than most. But the Syrian government is one of the world’s genuinely depraved regimes. Yet for all these years, Israel has been asked to negotiate with this regime, compromise with this regime and trust that this regime will someday occupy the heights over it in peace.

For 30 years, the Middle East peace process has been predicated on moral obtuseness, an unwillingness to face the true nature of certain governments. World leaders have tried sweet-talking Syria, calling Bashar al-Assad a friend (Nancy Pelosi) or a reformer (Hillary Clinton). In 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy invited Assad to be the guest of honor at France’s Bastille Day ceremonies — a ruthless jailer celebrating the storming of a jail. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on June 2, 2011 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on June 3, 2011, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: The Depravity Factor).

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