Every few years the dark side of humanity reminds us of how bestial, how savage we can be when we put aside all the constraints of civilised behaviour.
Not so long ago, very much within living memory, the time-after-time tragedy played out in Rwanda and Bosnia. Decades before that the people of Vietnam fell victim to the worst excesses of our inhumanity. A generation or so earlier nearly any community between Calais and Vladivostok — and many beyond — was exposed to genocide and blinding brutality. Today, the people of Syria are the hapless victims of unrestrained, murderous tyranny.
President Bashar al-Assad's forces have been accused by the United Nation of killing at least 7,500 Syrian citizens in the last year. The reason? They wanted to suppress the revolt determined to bring his presidency to an end. He assumed that position in July 2000 when he succeeded his equally autocratic father who had been president for 30 years.
Just as so many neighbouring dictators failed to understand — Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh — President Bashar al-Assad does not seem to understand, or, more likely, care, that the best way to deal with demands made through a popular uprising is to make moderate concessions. Bashar al-Assad has ignored this possibility and bloodily turned his security forces loose on their fellow citizens.
Opponents of reinstated Russian President Vladimir Putin fear he is about to do the same to those who believe his weekend re-election was a travesty and refuse to accept the result or remain silent.
The situation has become so desperate that China, a key Syrian ally, is expected to press al-Assad for a ceasefire even as Beijing remains firmly opposed to foreign intervention. Moscow argues that the crisis might be resolved if the West pressed “the Syrian opposition to stop fighting al-Assad’s regime”. Even the most hopeful assessment would suggest that it is far too late for that. Nevertheless international efforts to bring the carnage to an end continue.
The regime has agreed to allow former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos to visit the country. Baroness Amos said the aim is “to urge all sides to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies”.
At the opposite end of the spectrum US senator John McCain said the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centres by using air power. There was no immediate comment from the Obama administration on the comments by Mr McCain, the first US senator to urge a US military strike on Mr Assad’s forces.
The Arab Spring continues to force change and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and Israel’s determination to stymie them, make a usually potent regional mix lethal.
As all of this high diplomacy plays out the BBC carried a report of a father who watched from hiding as two al-Assad soldiers murdered his 12-year-old son. One kept the child’s head on the ground with his boot while the other slit the boy’s throat. This is the frightening, savage reality of al-Assad’s brutal tyranny.
Let us hope a negotiated settlement can be reached because it cannot be allowed continue.
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