COMMENT : Syria: concubinage in the time of war — Tammy Swofford
Syria in political disarray requires the Grand Ayatollah community of Tehran to realistically assess and modify the decade-incremental goals for 2010-2020
What transpired at a primary
school in Connecticut was the act of a mentally ill gunman. The primary image splashed across our media outlets was that of surviving children being led along in a queue. We draw the line for media when it comes to images of dead children. Things are a bit different with citizens in conflict zones across the world.
Syria’s photojournalism sports a hybrid look. Citizen journalists are within an active combat zone where internationally recognised rules of combat are lacking, hence, the stark images of the dead and injured citizens being loaded onto the beds of pick-up trucks. Amateur archivists are steadily compiling photographs and biographical sketches of these events. Images are posted on jihad portals, Facebook and Twitter accounts and YouTube. This week I viewed the trench of a mass grave in the vicinity of Damascus. It held 60 citizens who lost their lives in one 24-hour period. The photojournalist placed the civilian body count since the beginning of the Syrian uprising at 43,000. Most compelling is an additional pixel montage. It shows images of perhaps three dozen dead children. Some of the frames show children who are younger than the students killed in Connecticut.
Small faces are framed in white shrouds. Other children are in open shrouds to display fatal abdominal injuries. Government-sanctioned acts of insanity bring to mind the words recited by Hind, the daughter of ‘Utbah, as she exulted over the death of the man who had killed her father. As she feasted on Hamza’s liver, she had this to say: “We have punished you for the day of Badr, and one battle after the other brings madness and affliction...” (Al-Akham As-Sultaniyyah: The Laws of Islamic Governance, by (Qadi) Abu’l-Hasan al-Mawardi d. 450 AH, translated by Asadullah Yate, PhD, pp 61-62.)
“...one battle after the other brings madness and affliction...”
There have been many battles and much madness and affliction since the rise of ordinary citizens against the rule of the dynastic al-Assad family. An inability to make short work of Bashar al-Assad and sway a military that is loathe to abandon the president, have caused the call to jihad to ring out beyond the nation’s borders.
In years gone by Syria presented as both a geographic reality and a potent symbol, somewhat like a mythical Camelot. But today Syria remains plagued by the concept of concubinage allowed in time of war. Syria has been an ally of Iran for many years. Hizbollah, in no less manner, also serves the needs of Tehran. The political alliances worked because of essential stability involving known state actors. But what has changed and that which makes the disaster in Syria even more compelling is how Syria now presents itself as a territory for conquest for a few new masters. Iran is no longer the only game in town. New kingmakers have arrived on station. They will seek to wrest the control of this critical real estate from the former master.
The battlefield platform now supports both symmetrical and asymmetrical aspects. On the symmetrical side of the stage are the world powers. China, Russia, Iran and Korea present as symmetrical opponents for the members of the NATO alliance. The asymmetrical aspects of the stage involve Syrian citizens, al Qaeda, international intelligence operatives and the adjunct ranking Shi’a cleric community. There is much to be lost for Tehran if Syria does not remain its ally. The trickle-down effect for Hizbollah cannot be denied. Syria in political disarray requires the Grand Ayatollah community of Tehran to realistically assess and modify the decade-incremental goals for 2010-2020. This is especially true now that Syria is not the political fulcrum of the past. She is no longer an agent through which vital powers can be easily exercised. And in the future Syria may cease to be an instrument that provides capability for actions beginning in Tehran, travelling through Syria, on to Lebanon, and to the edges of Israel’s border. The power grid is in flux. But there are constants because of the Islamic concepts of power.
Geopolitical Islam supports the concept of de facto ownership of land not yet in physical possession. This concept allowed a Grand Ayatollah to present himself as Marja-e-Taqlid in both Najaf and Paris prior to the fall of the Pahlavi monarchy. Sayyed Ruhollah Khomeini made a triumphant return to Tehran in 1979. When he stepped off the aircraft, history took a bow. The world is now at another critical turn. Syria is up for grabs. There are innumerable eventualities on the ground. How will Iran respond?
When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, the world powers scrambled to find a suitable replacement. International leadership does not appreciate assassination surprises that knock policy off balance and base. And it is much harder to play “who’s on first?” with the current situation on the ground in Syria. Many interested parties and multiple complex variables make it impossible for my own Department of State to negotiate a peaceful resolution to what is an increasingly dangerous proposition. In my private estimation, we have put too much confidence in our capabilities to arm populations as a means to ‘disarm’ volatile regional conflicts. In recent years our intelligence and military failures in Afghanistan have exposed a Lilliputian Pentagon, which dutifully updates military manuals with ludicrous psychobabble against pissing off the Taliban as substitution for any real fait accompli worthy of thunderous applause. Meanwhile, a looming and irritated Iran casts a protective shadow. Syria is the land saddle and supply line for Hasan Nasrallah and his detached IRGC battalion. Iran maintains a Basij force estimated at 13 million souls. Syrians have placed themselves in the big game with enormous stakes. Al-Assad will soon become the side issue. Who gains control of Syria? That is the real question.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at email@example.com