Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Couple of Words About Innocence In the Arab World

Rather bizarrely for a man of letters known for his utter lack of innocence (and I say that with much admiration), Elias Khouri declared the other day in Al Quds al Arabi Newspaper that “the time of innocence has ended.”

I am not sure whom he had in mind when he opened his piece thus, because I don’t recall that innocence had ever come visiting on this side of the Mediterranean. In Lebanon, his and my hometown, especially, the term is so alien we always opt for “tourist” by way of a put down.

And still, it clobbers you every single time, death on the face of a child. Nothing touches a hard heart quite like innocence snuffed out. But then, what currency has more political purchase for hard hearts at war than the visage of toddlers stopped dead in their tracks? People tend to think it’s the race for the moral high ground that imbues such images with such import, when in fact it’s equally the race away from it: in their name, revenge is excusable, slaughter even, permissible. After all, the reasoning goes, it was because of them that innocence in us is lost.

I don’t know if the recent display of Syrian youth in their white shrouds, so serene and so dead, gassed into oblivion signals a new twist in Syria’s epic collapse. But I do know that whichever way the politics turn it will do so over a mass of shards.

Should this have been the purpose of the West, as our conspiracy theorists claim, then it must be the most bitter irony for them that Assad, on cue and as promised, brought the whole Syrian house down. Even if he were, in the end, to win this battle royale, they need but for a minute imagine a shattered Syria over the next 20 years and they will know that the deed, if indeed it was ever that, is done. Conspiracy or not, Syria, that old country, is already gone.

Sure, with a victory in hand, Hezbollah and Iran will have retained their foothold in this Godforsaken queen of the Levant. And, for the West, what exactly would be wrong with that? At a minimum, Iran and Assad will own the fight against Sunni Jihadists, with the US et al content to watch and tinker (sometimes even help) from the sidelines. By way of an explanation for Western reticence, there is none more compelling than that.

If Syria is the plague, what of the danger to the neighbors, one might ask. Indeed what of them? The obvious truth is that the region is floundering about in rivers of morass. Even the most likely scenarios stand on shifting assumptions. We have an Arabic saying for when we are unable to pin down the future: “For every event, a conversation.”

But there is one fact we can hold on to as we look ahead. When the dust settles—as it always does—only Syria and the dreams of those who truly loved it will have died. The whole lot of them—the Assads, Hezbollah, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Turkey, the US...—feel free here to add all your favorites--can crow over the remains, happy that whatever Syria is, it is not the other camp’s.

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