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Intolerable Excuses

Posted: 06/24/11 02:23 PM ET

Co-authored also by Bassem Bouguerra, André Glucksmann, Abdelwahab Meddeb and Mohammad al-Abdallah

Published regularly since 2002, the UN-sponsored Arab Human Development Reports make for some pretty disheartening reading. Just a few of the statistics they contain suffice to understand what depths the international community and Arab leaders have let Arab societies sink to. Until recently, four times fewer books were translated each year into Arabic (with its 350 million speakers) than into modern Greek, a language spoken by roughly 15 million people around the world. In the realm of economics, the figures are just as staggering: in 2003, Egyptian exports were roughly the same as those of Costa Rica, with a population 20 times greater. That same year, Thailand, with a population of roughly the same size as that of Egypt, exported 10 times more.

The truth is that the international community has treated the Arab world like one big gas station, tolerating tyrannical regimes as long as the latter guaranteed stability and unrestricted access to their oil. Such stability was also commonly invoked to justify relations with those regimes, casting them as the last line of defense against Islamic fundamentalism. Despite the very real threat religious extremism poses in the region, and the continued need to keep it in check, contrary to many experts' predictions, it simply wasn't the engine of the Arab Spring.

Now it's one thing to have preserved a dubious status quo with these dictatorships while their populations remained quiet and subservient. It is quite another altogether to remain passive when the Syrian people rise up to fight for their freedom. The confused West missed the historical turn of the Arab Spring because it forgot or chose to forget that some aspirations are universal. This shocking failure would become criminal if we continued to ignore that they are.

Since the beginning of the Syrian revolt, Bashar al Assad's regime has killed over fourteen hundred people and imprisoned over ten thousand. To these prisoners, nails are being ripped off, genitals burned and mutilated, spines stretched, bodies rolled around wheels to be whipped. A family whose thirteen-year-old was arrested during a march in Deraa in April had the courage of publishing the terrifying pictures of their son when his body was returned to them a month later. Hamza al-Khatib has become a symbol of the Syrian people's struggle against the ruthless regime of Bashar and the al Assad gang. Even those who hoped or wished that the son of the "butcher of Hama" was different from his father, the king has no clothes.

The Turkish government, dealing with an unprecedented influx of political refugees from along its porous border, has taken the highly unusual step of condemning the crack-down very vocally as "unacceptable" while denouncing the "atrocities" committed by the regime against peaceful protesters. Like in Budapest (1956), Prague (1968), Tiananmen (1969), and Grozny (2000), civilian resistance is being crushed by the brutal repression of the State.

One of the 13 500 refugees now living in Turkey, interviewed by the French daily Liberation, put it simply: "Our president is killing us. We need the world's help." Still, apart from a few exceptions, the international community continues to refuse to walk the walk. We are appalled, we condemn, we express indignation... But for whatever reason, either archaic moral relativism or in the name of shortsighted Realpolitik, we don't act.

Even as social media streams us the horrific scenes, we don't flinch, just as we didn't flinch when Hafez al Assad leveled the city of Hama in 1982, leaving tens of thousands of casualties behind as a warning to his opposition.

After the blueprint Western intervention to save Benghazi from Gadhafi's troops, it is time to stop worrying about "imposing our values" or an elusive preservation of geopolitical stability. These are not worthy excuses. We cannot afford to give up on values which are universal before being Western. Should we continue to close our eyes as we witness this carnage because of Iran's backing of Syria and, lurking in the background, Hezbollah's? When will we reach that unbearable threshold of suffering?

It is time for the international community and the Arab peoples, Egyptian and Tunisian at their helm, to actively help the Syrian people. The Arab League which has already voiced its "concern and anger" can reach consensus on this matter. Bashar and his regime must leave. But the Syrian people cannot win alone against a well-equipped army and now Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah's militiamen. Between NOTHING and a military intervention which is not currently on the cards, many means -diplomatic, economic, political - are available to exert pressure on a butchering dictator. They haven't even been considered at this stage. Is this acceptable?

Despite his horrific crimes against humanity, Bashar al-Assad still has very strong allies in the international community, Russia and China in particular, who preclude any Security Council condemnation on this matter. The complicity of these two states has even been denounced by Syrian protesters holding up banners in Russian and Chinese. How long will public opinion accept to watch peaceful crowds murdered by tanks, helicopters and snipers? Neither Bashar nor his supporters should receive any moral or diplomatic immunity: a crime is a crime and to turn a blind eye is no longer an option.

Felix Marquardt is the founder of The Atlantic Dinners. Baratunde Thurston is a writer and the Co-founder of Jack & Jill Politics. Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning columnist and an international public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues. Parag Khanna is a former advisor to Barack Obama and the author of How to Run the World. Bassem Bouguerra is a Tunisian online activist living in San Francisco, California. He is Software Architect at Yahoo! and a Research Engineer at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at Stanford. André Glucksmann is a French philosopher and writer. Abdelwahab Meddeb is the author of Tunis Spring. Mohammad al-Abdallah is the Spokesperson of the Syrian Coordination Committee.

 

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