Idols and Statues |
Al Hayat - 29 July, 2012
Author: Husam Itani
The testimonies of dozens of former Syrian detainees, as well as videotapes and images, feature talk and evidence confirming that the security elements forced whoever fell in their hands to utter words deifying President Bashar al-Assad and the Baath Party.
These practices might fall in the context of exaggerated attempts deployed by the regime henchmen and beneficiaries to break down and humiliate the prisoner, by downplaying his beliefs, values and ideals and showing their futility in the face of their tyranny and authority in whose name they demand obedience from the detainee. This has always been practiced with sovereign prisoners. However, what caused the escalation of this phenomenon is the alleged “secularism” of the Baath, which perceives religion as being a tool exploited to serve its political needs, as it was done by Saddam Hussein during the last years of his rule, and Hafez al-Assad who spread some sort of apolitical faith in Syria (by building hundreds of mosques, inaugurating Koranic schools and encouraging the Qubaisiate phenomenon) following his clash with the Muslim Brotherhood group. Bashar Al-Assad thus adopted the same method.
It is clear that the downplaying of the prisoners’ beliefs and their subjection to moral and psychological “thuggery” has been part of the sectarian hegemony means, at a time when the condemnation of these practices in a violent way took the shape of attempts to restore a counter-sectarian hegemony.
On the other hand, the deification of the leader whose pictures and statues observe the citizens on public squares and who was introduced into the Syrians’ minds as being “here forever,” the wisest and the most fit to rule the country along with his descendants throughout four decades, stems from the insistence on sustaining the present moment, and the attempts to make it last indefinitely. This is due to the regime’s realization of the fact that his base is narrow and frail, thus inventing symbols, rhetoric and a general behavior adopted by the loyalist in his daily life.
And what applies to the authority of Al-Assad Sr. and Jr. applies to the same extent on the annulment and prohibition of politics, not only as a mechanism to manage the disputes within society, but also as a sign for the changes of times and what these changes feature in terms of the vanishing of states and fall of kingdoms. Accordingly, any rational consideration of the social, political and economic situation becomes the object of suspicions, and can only be erased by the adoption of the official blabber on “principles”, “constants”, “historical accomplishments” and the “wise command”. This widens the discrepancy between the words and their meanings, rendering the violent Syrian entry into Lebanon in 1976 a response to the calls for help issued by the Lebanese, the camps’ war in the eighties part of the “deterrence of Arafat’s conspiracy” against the rights of the Palestinian people, and the distance extremely close between the idolization of the speech and its worship as a holy text.
The outcome of the shift away from rationality and the freezing of the political rhetoric are nothing short of a new paganism, featuring imagery, habits and partisan customs controlling the work of the state’s administrations, bodies and symbols. This does not mean the emergence of a new religion in which the Baath is a high being and in which the president and his family occupy some sort of high position in the ritual hierarchy. It rather places the party, the president and anything related to them outside the context of all that is believed to be prone to change and expire. It is not odd at this level that those insisting on Bashar al-Assad’s rule are incapable of imagining any future for Syria without him, and for them to be behind the catastrophic scenarios about the coming to power of terrorist religious groups. This is not only explained by the material interests they are reaping thanks to the authority in place, but also by the longstanding talk which links the stability, livelihood and normal lives of millions of Syrians to the status quo.
It seems that the waves of worship of individuals which started emerging at the end of the seventies have had their impact among the supporters of the regime on one hand. But on the other, they led to the isolation of the officials from reality and their dissociation from its laws and transformations.