Sympathy for the Devil
Bashar al-Assad gets my sympathy.
Assad means ‘lion’ in Arabic.
What a noble, fearsome name for a political dynasty.
It was bestowed partly for this very quality, naturally.
The title was won by Bashar’s grandfather, who adopted the nickname given by his contemporaries into the family name.
This was a title earned.
But the hope was also, I suppose, that the political descendents would live up to the name.
It’s not a bad idea. It’s very in keeping with our superstitious nature that a family name should come to be regarded as a magic spell and incantation that can change reality.
This is why we have ‘Nike’ shoes after all. How can we lose in shoes named after the goddess of victory?
The problem is that spells and incantations seem to work only partially.
Bashar al-Assad does not look very much like Bashar the Lion.
He does have a feline look, though.
He looks rather like a bedraggled moggy that has been rescued from the local canal.
Those nasty neighbourhood boys threw him in for a laugh.
This is the outrageous fortune that befalls cats in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is Bashar al-Qitt – or something like that – in Arabic.
Does this reflect the impotency of magic or the slow degeneration of leonine qualities over the generations?
I feel sympathy for Bashar al-Assad because his position is unfortunate; it is analogous to Britain’s George VI, another man who was called to rule when he had no expectation that he would do so.
The trouble with older brothers, eh?
George VI had to deal with Edward VIII’s desire for American divorcees, which made him unsuitable for the throne.
Bashar’s problematic elder brother eliminated himself more totally from the succession.
Bassel al-Assad, the son born to rule, smashed his car into a roundabout in 1994.
Boys will be boys.
If it’s not women, it’s cars.
That gave Bashar six years to prepare for power.
But the natural order had been disrupted, and when the natural order has been disrupted it is not easy to repair consciously.
Unlike Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi, Bashar never sought leadership.
In this respect, Bashar resembles Kim Jong-un – although his situation is even more unfortunate.
He had little time to play the Dauphin.
The thought that must have occurred to Bashar is whether Syria’s civil war would have broken out if his brother had lived.
Alternatively, he may wonder whether his brother would have conducted the war with greater success.
I think this accounts for the somewhat uncertain look on Bashar’s face.
“Why does it have to be me? It wasn’t meant to be me. Am I doing it right?”
That is what his appearance generally conveys to me. He does not embody certainty in command.
This is a man who trained as a doctor. He trained with the expectation, I suspect, of a quiet life.
His priority would have been not to appear as a threat to his brother’s power lest fraternal jealousy led to execution.
He would, I suppose, have taken up secondary roles within the state.
He remains the quiet man, even though he is now in command.
It seems that Bashar will prevail in this war.
His forces – working with the Russians, Iranians, and Hezbollah – have pushed back the Islamic State and the insurgents against his government.
He has preserved the family inheritance.
In this respect, he has lived up to his lion-like name.
But I do not believe this will lay the ghosts that ask: Would it have happened at all if Bassel had lived? Would the war have lasted so long? Have I nearly ruined everything my father worked to achieve?
Nor, I imagine, will the victory stymie the resentment he will feel against the brother who landed him in this hellish mess.
Bashar al-Assad has bloodied his hands.
He is an unlikely character to do so, and his position is not so much wicked as tragic.
We must all play our roles in life.
We jump like rats in a maze.
Woe to those who unexpectedly receive the so-called rewards of power.