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Flames in the Olive Garden

August 14th, 2012

Flames in the Olive Garden

By Naveed Ahmad

Notwithstanding a heavy mandate of reporting on state of Syrian civilians, the refugees and the activists, somehow I could watch two movies in one week. Being a journalist reporting on disaster and conflict, I had thrice seen stunning Angelina Jolie. But through her new movie – In the Land of Blood and Honey – depicting the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, she not only exposed her true self but also the realities a journalist mostly fails to report. Nicholas Cage played his role in ‘Lord of War’ with utmost perfection coupled with exceptional cinematography to capture the realities; academics and journalists are never there to witness.
In sheer coincidence, both the films brought back to me what I was trying to forget after seeing it all day. Syria is a war zone or so to speak a proxy war zone where Soviet-era tanks and gunships are massacring families of those young men who are forced to carry USSR’s best produce, the AK-47s. Here, Bashar Al-Assad or his probably slain or de-capacitated brother, General Maher Al-Assad, plays the role of Lord of the War. Nicholas Cage of future’s sequel is dealing with a client in the Kremlin at the breakfast table and the Persian Gulf at lunch time. He savors evening snacks in Jerusalem and dines in Paris. He spends weekends at orphan charity fundraiser before leaving for cocktail meeting in a Manhattan seven star.

Prussian military theorist Karl Von Clausewitz hammered upon us during the university days that war is an extension of politics by other means. We laughed it out many a time thinking that the dejected lover of a general’s daughter has become redundant; not any more when we live through the Srebrenica massacre, civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and witness homelessness of a refugee and struggle of her freedom-loving son.

Five years on, Angelina Jolie may choose her next film to chronicle sectarian genocide in Homs and killing fields of Damascus and Aleppo, both of which are at par in brutality and global apathy exhibited during the Bosnia’s war of independence. Damascus’ popular Nofara Café may set the opening scene for Angelina Jolie’s next sequel where an Alawite man and a Sunni girl be seen spending a romantic evening in the shadow of historic Umayyad Mosque.

Being an optimist, I always questioned the theory of structured peace but sitting in Aleppo jungle with the Free Syrian Army members, the notion seemed dead right. Peace is an artificial pause between two or more wars. Since the end of mother of all proxy wars – very, very Cold War – peace has been in short supply. The world has seen many lords of war, using different names such as George Bush Senior or Milesovic, Saddam Hussain or General Abdul Rashid Dostum and now the Assads.
In the Arab Republic of Syria, it all started for dignity and prosperity. Well-educated and refined Syrians had tiny Tunisia to inspire them in shunning four decades of autocratic single family rule. From last Ramadan to the ongoing, they lost over 25,000 sons and daughters but never compromised. From my personal interaction, I believe they won’t even if the cost quadruples. Defection of Prime Minister Riad may be seen with suspicion within the opposition ranks; the act itself has heightened the morale of those still trying to get along with Bashar Al-Assad.
Conspiracy theorists par excellence, nonetheless, are having a field day. I have heard that the Arab Spring is a Qatari project aiming to reshape the Middle East and muster wider acceptance for the apartheid Israel. The ‘anti-imperialists’ opine that United States would gain lost political and financial strength from the chaos in the Middle East. Pakistan is not immune to such out-of-the-box ‘thinkers’.

Dr Ahmet Devutoglu, an academician by training and foreign minister of Turkey by fate, explained the new democratic order in the Middle East with nothing but logic. The crux of his keynote address at MEDays 2011 in Morocco categorized the Ba’athist regimes as relics of the Communist era which should have been shown the door when Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990s. Nothing but façade of insecurity at the hands of Israel and iron curtain of fear amongst the people bought the Arab dictators a decade and a half.

Dilemma of even the most brilliant academics has generally been drought of imagination beyond cause-and-effect analysis. Dr Ahmet’s Turkey has lost more so far than gained in its promise for free and democratic Syria. The author of ‘Strategic Depth’ could deconstruct the core of Ba’athist collapse but have been unable to offer sustentative support for its shapers except pocketing humiliation in F-4 downing affair. The Syrian regime cleverly retreated from Kurd-dominated Turkey-bordering regions to un-nerve the aggressive yet cautious northern neighbor. Had Ankara acted sooner, the Kurd terrorists’ flags might not have been fluttering on the abandoned border post of the Assads’ military.

Destabilized and bleeding Syria means more to the world than its leaders today make of it. Last October, Bashar Al-Assad threatened in one of his monologues that the world cannot afford another Afghanistan. Neither the Atlantic rim nations nor inmates of plush palaces in the Arabian Gulf took note of the threat. Ignoring the global apathy, the Syrians took destiny in their hands ever since; paying its price with blood and honor. ‘Lords of War’ win either way but for the green-eyed youth in Aleppo and Idlib, it’s a belated just war.

A Syrian opposition leader spoke at length with me on likely post-Assad scenarios; from an armed attack by Coalition of the Willing (like the second Iraq war) or emergence of an Egypt-style Supreme Council of Armed Forces as caretaker government. The gray-haired man rubbed aside all prospects and possibilities in the end.
War and bloodshed are realities of life and the era of peace during the Assads was artificial as much as existence of Israel. With battle for Aleppo entering fourth week, the leaders of Muslim nations are mulling various prospects to end the bloodshed. The two-day summit in Jeddah, with the Saudi king and the Iranian presidents both in attendance, has raised hopes in some quarters. The Saudi initiative is aimed at discussing the Syrian suffering while Iran aims to bring forth the struggle waged in Bahrain. In Syria, 12 per cent Shi’ite minority has been ruling the 83 per cent Sunni population since 1970 while Bahrain’s 52 per cent Shi’ite population does not want its Sunni ruler.

The pace of developments in Syria may render the Jeddah summit irrelevant, owing to fast collapsing Assad regime which even fails to track its chief executive for 36 hours until he appears in Jordan to defect. Interesting, however, it is that the Saudi king did not limit such consultation to the Arab League forum. Regardless of ground situation of Syria on August 14-15, a frank and heated discussion on the sectarian divide within the Muslim nations may lead to a new chapter in intra-Islam dialogue.

The ‘Lords of War’ i.e. United States, Russia and China, however, still have enough business in arming the other eleven inhabitants of the planet Earth as every there is a weapon for every 12th. For the very same reasons, Angelina Jolie’s next sequel has an equally wider appeal. Remember, peace is an artificial pause between two wars!

Naveed Ahmad is an investigative journalist and academic with background in security, diplomacy and the Middle East. He has reported the ongoing uprising from inside Syria. He can be reached @naveed360

The article originally appeared in The News International, Pakistan’s largest circulated daily newspaper.

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