Before I tell you about the study, let me first tell you about how the civil war in Syria began. The war started because of children. In 2011, 15 schoolchildren were arrested and tortured for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall. The citizens were outraged and formed peaceful protests asking for the release of the children, democracy and freedom for the people. On March 18, 2011, the military, under the control of Bashar al-Assad, opened fire on the protesters killing four people. The following day, the military arrived at the funeral of one of the fallen and shot and killed another person. That was the beginning of a civil war that continues to this day.
During the war, Assad has broken international law and used chemical weapons on civilians and rebels. The turmoil in Syria has allowed IS to step in and take over large areas of Syria, essentially creating a 3rd front that both Assad’s forces and the rebels need to fight. Assad’s unwillingness to abdicate his power and allow democracy to flourish has given IS more resources and more desperate people to bolster their ranks. People who feel they have no other choice. However, the true horror of Bashar al-Assad was not fully known until today.
Between 2011 and 2015 in Saydnaya Prison an estimated 13,000 mostly civilians were executed in secret. A further 17,000 more are believed to have been executed in prisons throughout Syria. Every week, sometimes twice a week, guards would appear and call out the names of 50 people. They were told they were being transferred. Instead they are blindfolded and taken into a basement where they are severely beaten. Unable to see what is happening to them they are then led to another building. Before the final horror begins, the last thing they feel is a noose being tightened around their necks. “They kept them [hanging] there for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn’t die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks,” said an eyewitness and former judge.
The conditions inside the prison are perhaps even worse. Assad has created “a world carefully designed to humiliate, degrade, sicken, starve and ultimately kill those trapped inside.” The prisoners are raped and are sometimes forced to rape other prisoners for the enjoyment of the guards. Torture is as normal to them as your morning coffee is to you. The floors of the prison are covered with blood and puss and food and water are often deprived. When they are fed it is often scattered onto that soiled floor. Each morning guards would dispose of bodies that didn’t make it through the night.
This is happening in our world. The world of Super Bowl parties and Dancing with the Stars.
One of Assad’s strongest supporters is Donald Trump’s favorite ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin. The reasons behind Russia’s support of Assad are complex and varied. In the most general of terms, Russia has significant economic and military interests in keeping Assad in power. While some of those interests fall in line with conventional wisdom (stopping IS), others do not, particularly against the backdrop of truly heinous crimes against humanity. As always, the Middle East is extremely volatile and decisions made by 3rd party countries can have detrimental effects that can last for decades. We need only look back at President George W. Bush’s horrendous mistake in Iraq that helped created ISIS in the first place. Solutions will not be easy and they will take a unified world to find.
There exists degrees of evil. I would hope that most agree that Assad is among the worst. However, my fear is that evil is spreading. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent has in the past decade, made criticizing his government a criminal offense. Add to that, government imposed censorship, the tacit approval of Assad’s methods, LGBT abuses and just this past week, Russia decriminalized domestic violence. This brings us to the United States.
In the past two weeks, admitted sexual predator Donald Trump has been attempting to tear down the very institutions of democracy and checks and balances within this country. When the judicial system has tried to slow him down to make sure his actions are constitutional, he has threatened them and placed targets on their back. When a media outlet dares to question him he demonizes and demeans them, calling them “fake news” yet never actually answers their concerns. He utters falsehoods with such frequency that even his staff has a difficult time managing truth from fiction. He uses regulatory power to control the wealthy and he uses fear and prejudice to control the minds of the weak and uneducated.
Over the course of this past year he has suggested the murder of an opposing candidate stating, “By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.” He has stated that he supports beating protesters saying, “Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK, just knock the hell -- I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.” Even more disturbing is the following statement, “By the way, I hate some of these people, but I'd never kill them. I hate them. No, I think, no these people, honestly, I'll be honest, I'll be honest, I would never kill them. I would never do that. Let's see, uh, no I wouldn't.” He brought up killing people who oppose him and had to think about whether he would do it?! Trump may not be Assad yet but he is clearly only a couple degrees of evil removed. What is even more terrifying is how many people have bought into his propaganda even while he institutes policies that harm them.
Whenever we hear the words “Syrian refugees” we must remember the horrors of the world that they are escaping from and show compassion and acceptance. We are going through a time of immense turmoil and in many ways are going through our own cultural civil war. We cannot allow ourselves to become like Syria. We must not allow the branches of our government to be compromised by hate, fear and greed. We must not allow our own fears to keep us from reaching out a hand to a person in need. If we do not speak now, if we do not act now, then Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump will become this generation’s Axis of Evil and we will be complicit.
You can read the study by Amnesty International as well as some learning materials on the crisis in Syria and Russia through the links below:
Picture by: edwin.11