In this article, the author shares his first thoughts and reaction to the Syrian emailgate before concluding with the following sentence adapted from Bob Marley’s Redemption Song: how long shall they continue to kill while we stand aside and look?
By David J. Franco, 15 March, 2012
The latest in the long list of leaks since Wikileaks’ cablegate in 2010 concerns Syria and the Assads. Except that this time we are not talking about diplomatic cables. No, this time we are talking about some 3,000 emails hacked from the Asads’ private email accounts by, presumably, the opposition. Assuming that such emails truly originate in the Assads’ accounts and have not been falsely manufactured (The Guardian have made their best to ensure the authenticity of most of those emails yet cannot fully guarantee their authenticity), their content is both frivolous and worrisome.
Frivolous because their revelation confirms once again that internet has brought about times in which voyeurism and exhibitionism find resonance and meet one another across the broad spectrum of new technologies. As internet users, we are both exposed to voyeurism and exhibitionism; we are both potential voyeurs and potential exhibitionists. One might have thought that Facebook, Twitter, and the other so called social media platforms were the maximum exponential of this renewed fashion, but Anonymous, Wikileaks and others have confirmed that public and private life no longer prevail in the age of hackerism. As we browse through the web in search of news regarding the Syrian emailgate one comes across headlines such as ‘Assad’s iTunes emails show music taste Chris Brown to Right Said Fred’. One might wonder how many hits will that piece of news get when compared to more substantive matters – I hope that not many but I am worried that I might be too naive. But that is not what concerns me most here.
What concerns me most is that the contents of those private emails are very worrisome in at least two closely related counts. First, because it seems to me as if we needed over and again confirmation in the form of pictures, emails, or documents to start shaking off our self-denial and acknowledge that, to take the Syrian case as an example, what is happening in Syria is unacceptable and disgusting. Yes, the Assads continue to lead a comfortable life in which Ipad, iTunes, and fashion clothes and furniture coexist with the deaths of hundreds of people in the streets of Homs. Just as many were surprised to see that despite staying in a Bedouin tent during his diplomatic visits Muammar Gaddafi was surrounded by luxury and a harem of women ready (obliged in most cases) to provide him with enduring pleasure, many will now express their disgust following the Syrian emailgate. They sort of knew what was/is going on, but they needed to be put before unethical evidence to say: ‘we should do something about it’. Truth is we already knew what is going on in Syria, just as we know what is going on in many other places.
Let me take a break before I move on to exposing the second reason why I find the content of the emails worrisome. We also read in the hacked emails that Asma al-Assad has been in correspondence with her dear friend Al Mayassa Al Thani, the daughter of the Emir of Qatar, and that the latter has, on the base of their good friendship and considering the suffering the Assads and their children must be going through, invited the Assads to leave the country and take asylum in Doha. A noble gesture coming from Her Majesty of Qatar. In fact, this may disgust many readers but they should (we should) come to terms with the rather paradoxical fact that peace and truce are often in tension with justice. If the Assads leave the country, then there may be some scope for a negotiated transition to peace –although how much they are in control of the centres of power and violence is dubious in light of evidence indicating that al-Assad is unwilling to share information with members of his clan and the security apparatuses of the country. Leaving that aside, however, if the Assads leave the country Syrians will not be able to judge them for the 8,000 dead and many more tortured and injured since protests initiated a year ago. Ideally, once this is over the Assads should be judged, together with the direct perpetrators of the atrocities (on both sides if that is the case), but because things get bogged down with politics (for instance, with Russia and China vetoing a potential intervention) maybe the best is that the couple leaves the country. But that is a different story and not something that needs to further discuss here.
The second reason for which I find the contents of the hacked emails worrisome, and which in fact elevates the first reason to a more existential level, is that they are confirmation that in the twenty first century leaders and politicians continue to lead lives detached from the realities of the peoples they purportedly lead (note I am not saying ‘represent’). President Mubarak will be remembered for many things but one that I remember from one of his last televised speeches is when he called the people of Egypt his own “children”. He was living at ease while the majority of Egyptians were struggling. Yet he dared calling them his sons and daughters. Truth is that politicians, leaders, and elites, not only those in non-democratic countries, continue to lead a life detached from the realities of the people. They continue to see the peoples of the world as sheep, while they see themselves as saviours living by the maxim: ‘forgive them, Father, for they do not know they have sinned’. That is worrisome in many respects. The peoples of the world may want to be led, but if asked I am sure they will say that they do not want to be fooled.
To recap, the Syrian emailgate is both frivolous and worrisome. In an attempt to make things brief I have left untouched many other revelations, such as for example Bashar al-Assad’s plea for help from the Iranians. Much could be said of that too. However, the intention here has not been to provide a detailed analysis of the contents of the hacked emails but rather to report my first reactions to the latest from the Syrian conflict. At the worst, the Syrian emailgate will be a simple anecdote in a sad conflict. At the best, however, it may help shame the Asads and maybe those opposing a Security Council Resolution condemning the regime. I am not a friend of interventionism, especially when coupled with the pursuit of self-interested economic or political gains. However, I am pushed by the atrocities to make mine the words of a legendary singer and claim: how long shall they continue to kill while we stand aside and look? That applies as much to Syria as to all the atrocities and injustice that surround us. For much else could be done.