Two years ago, Bashar al-Assad said this:
President al-Assad: Terrorism will not stop here, it will export itself through illegal immigration into Europe. pic.twitter.com/iZjHFdw6yV
— Syrian Presidency (@Presidency_Sy) June 17, 2013
Some observers — especially those currently promoting fear of Syrian refugees — might think this was a prescient warning, but what Assad’s tweet actually expressed was the consistency with which he has stayed on message in his contrived “war on terrorism” and the fact that the flow of refugees would undermine the future of Syria.
Throughout the war, Assad has insisted that his adversaries are all “terrorists.” He wants the continuation of his rule to be perceived as a way of insuring that the threat of terrorism does not grow. Yet anyone who believes this propaganda is willfully ignoring the reality that far from combating the expansion of ISIS, Assad essentially provided an incubator in which it could grow. ISIS and Assad have a symbiotic relationship.
At the same time, as Syrians fled Assad’s barrel bombs, taking refuge in neighboring countries, the regime was prescient in this sense: once the regime’s own supporters lost faith in Syria’s future, taking advantage of their greater resources they would likely head for Europe with little likelihood of returning. As the New York Times reported in September, “Now those departing include more middle-class or wealthy people, more supporters of the government, and more residents of areas that were initially safe.”
Thus, even before the westward flow had begun, Assad wanted to sow fear in the minds of those who would likely offer refuge to people the regime can ill afford to lose. And what better way of exploiting European xenophobia than by referring to such fleeing Syrians as “illegal immigrants” — evidence, I might suggest, that Assad has his own Western media advisers.
(It shouldn’t need saying but I’ll say it anyway: Refugee status must never be made contingent on political affiliations. Syrians fleeing the war, deserve help — irrespective of their religion, sect, or ethnicity.)
The U.S. Congress and the GOP have now become megaphones of Islamophobic fear, portraying Syrian refugees as potential terrorists rather than what they really are — victims of tyranny and terrorism.
In conjunction with this deranged hysteria which across the U.S. is twisting perceptions of Syria, the argument that Assad is the “lesser evil” goes from strength to strength.
Just as Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the 9/11 attacks, saying they were “very good” because they would unite the U.S. and Israel and “strengthen the bond between our two peoples,” Assad must have taken satisfaction in the slaughter in Paris, knowing that it would buttress his argument that he, his allies and the West face a common enemy.
Likewise, as The Guardian notes, the attacks strengthen Iran’s position in Syria:
Ali Alfoneh, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, said: “President François Hollande, who cannot count on Washington deploying ground forces in Syria, is now reaching out to Iran and Russia to form an alliance in the fight against Daesh [Isis].
“This in turn legitimises Iran’s military engagement in Syria, which Washington considers as one of the root causes of emergence of Daesh in that country. In that sense, the terrorist attacks in Paris came as manna from heaven for Tehran.”
So many commentators have joined in the chorus that warns against the risk of playing into the hands of ISIS, saying that we must avoid rising to provocation and giving the terrorists what they want, and yet at the same time, with barely any protest and plenty of nods of approval, we now move in the direction of giving Assad exactly what he wants.