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LIBERAL & PROUD

Caught off guard by the scorpion

Exclusive: Ellen Ratner explains, 'Syrian president is only doing what is in his nature'

This is how I woke up on Easter morning, with a statement from U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan:

I am shocked by recent reports of a surge in violence and atrocities in several towns and villages in Syria, resulting in alarming levels of casualties, refugees and displaced persons, in violation of assurances given to me.

This is a time when we must all urgently work towards a full cessation of hostilities, providing the space for humanitarian access and creating the conditions for a political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.

As we get closer to the Tuesday 10 April deadline, I remind the Syrian Government of the need for full implementation of its commitments and stress that the present escalation of violence is unacceptable. I once again call upon both the Government and the opposition to cease all forms of violence by 0600 Damascus time Thursday 12 April.

I am in constant contact with the Syrian Government and ask all States with influence on the parties to use it now to ensure an end to the bloodshed and the beginning of dialogue.

Syria, which I visited in 2003, is very tolerant of Christianity. It does not have a “state religion.” In fact, one of the oldest preserved synagogues is in the National Museum of Syria, a reconstruction of a third-century synagogue. I visited it and was amazed they had preserved it. Then I went to the gift shop only to find a few books and pamphlets devoted to the “Zionist” threat. It is not just a hotbed of Hamas; it even celebrates Christmas as a national holiday, unlike most other Arab countries. Syria is a land of tolerance and contradictions, but it is led by a dictator who has violence in his DNA.

His father is said to have “papered over a town” also known as the “Hamas massacre.” This took place in 1982. Depending on the source, President Assad’s father killed between 10,000 and 40,000 people. The attack was led by Rifaat al-Assad, Hafez al-Assad’s brother and the uncle of current President Assad. It was related to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which wanted a more conservative brand of religion. People were killed as they were sleeping. According to many accounts, children and women were killed along with the men and boys. It ended any objection to the regime.

Trained in Syria and London to become an ophthalmologist, he took an oath to “do no harm.” Many have described him as quiet and studious. However, as we have seen, his DNA has won out. He is as violent and vicious as his father. Fearing Israel and his uncle who wants power (yes, the same man who led the Hama massacre), he has opened the door to Iran. He has also been known to help out the CIA with some renditions and reported torture. He is a man who wants to keep power and will do what it takes. Iran? CIA? He has, as the State Department expression says, “no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.”

I do not understand why the United Nations and others are very surprised by the actions of Bashar al-Assad. It is who he is, who he grew up knowing and seeing, who his family is, despite his years of being a doctor. It is no different than the famous story of the tortoise and the scorpion. The scorpion needed a ride across the river and asks the tortoise to give him a ride over. The tortoise said he will but only if the scorpion will not sting him. As they are crossing the river, the scorpion breaks his promise and readies his stinger, and the tortoise is surprised by the breaking of the promise. Of course the scorpion is only doing what he is by nature trained to do: being a scorpion.

The United Nations and the world should not be surprised or caught off guard by Bashar al-Assad. He is only doing what is in his nature: being a scorpion.

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