What does the agony of Syria mean to Antiguans and Barbudans? The answer to that question appears to be: “Very little – or perhaps nothing at all.” The nearest thing to an appreciation of the Syria Question comes from former United Nations Ambassador Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst. Max, as we affectionately call him, has worked the corridors of international relations. He, if no one else, must have the experiential basis to analyze the bitter implications of the savage spectacle now playing itself out in full view of an agitated world community.
Knowing the mind of our own nation as well as he does, Max Hurst easily hits upon the one item certain to excite the interest of your average, venal Antiguan and Barbudan. Only the prospect of material gain from the sale of our citizenship to Syrian émigrés fleeing the terror will cause our pulse to quicken.
The blood-soaked land of Syria has become the latest physical symbol of the eternal struggle between good and evil that defines the Universe. Man is a cruel, vicious animal, and he sinks to his most brutal state when facing his own most bitter enemy – himself. World history proves this terrible truth by endless repetition, and the land of Syria ranks high among the most blood-soaked real estate on the face of the planet. The current paroxysm of man’s inhumanity to himself is only the latest spasm of bloodshed to curse one of the major crossroads of human conflict.
Today, the increasing desperation of the Baathist Alawite faction drives Bashaar al-Assad to call down total hellfire on the heads of those who seek the downfall of his regime. Al-Assad is the product of a brutal, elitist culture. Those who support him look upon strange words like “democracy” and “freedom” with disdain. To these descendants of a totalitarian era, human freedom is the most dangerous concept of all. Their worldview values “stability” as the main ingredient of national life – and they define stability as a condition where they, the essential elite, remain at the top of the heap in perpetuity. Genghis Khan, were he alive today, would be very much at home in the Baathist court, and among congenial company.
This dysfunctional reality goes far to explain why today, as Syria falls further into the depths of a modern day Hell, the only countries in the world that are prepared to ally themselves with Bashaar al-Assad are Russia, China and Iran – and these are members of the world community well known for their own repressive nature.
Russia, China and Iran have powerful reasons for their grim loyalty to the Baathist regime. It is entertaining, in a macabre sort of way, to watch as Russian President Vladimir Putin parades his determination to assure the continued survival of his last ally on the Mediterranean Sea. China, to whom democracy is a mere fig leaf for totalitarian repression, hovers anxiously in the wings, poised to veto any attempt by the world community to take control of the carnage. Iran (an utterly neurotic nation if there was ever one) dreads the transformation of a Shiite ally into a Sunni-dominated state.
These three countries have only relatively lately emerged from millennia of imperial rule. The age of Russian Czars, Chinese Emperors and Persian Shahs still resonates in their politics. To ancient Russia, China and Iran, democracy is still a new, untried, distrusted concept. In these cultures, the exercise of naked power is everything – “the people” are nothing.
Perhaps the truly anti-democratic character of our own people determines our blasé reaction to the unfolding human tragedy that is Syria today. We too, in ostensibly democratic Antigua & Barbuda, only deploy the external trappings of the democratic process in pursuit of private venality. This explains our readiness to align ourselves with the goals of repressive nations like Russia, China and Iran – if only to give vent to our anti-American prejudices.