Syrian opposition needs international support
Wounded Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat rests in bed at his residence in Damascus on August 25, 2011, after being grabbed and beaten up by pro-regime militiamen at the Syrian capital's Ummayad square while he was returning home by car at dawn. Farzat, one of the Arab world's most renowned cartoonists, has published cartoons critical of the brutal crackdown on protesters. (Getty Images)
August 27th, 2011
07:14 PM ET

Syrian opposition needs international support

Editor's Note: Firas Maksad is a political consultant at law firm DLA Piper and a Middle East activist.

By Firas Maksad - Special to CNN's Global Public Square

Imagine Jon Stewart of The Daily Show being dragged out of his car in New York’s Times Square, beaten savagely by President Barack Obama’s secret service and then left to bleed on the New Jersey Turnpike. This is what thugs loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad did to Ali Farzat, the country’s most popular cartoonist, in the heart of Damascus before dumping him on a distant highway. His crime? Depicting the plight of Syrian citizens suffering from four decades of political and economic oppression.

Hooded men dragged Ali Farzat into the back of a van as he left his office on Thursday. They broke his arm and fingers so he may never draw again. Nearby policemen watched helplessly, knowing this was a matter beyond their authority. As regime thugs brutalized this distinguished-looking sixty-year-old man, they explained, "This is punishment for those who disrespect their master,” in reference to President Assad. To add insult to injury, they cut off Farzat's iconic beard and his long gray hair that Syrians have come to recognize.

Although shockingly brazen, what happened to this celebrity cartoonist is becoming fairly common in Syria. The Assad regime is desperately trying to prevent a rebellion that began in the countryside from taking root amongst the country’s urban and cultural elite. In July, prominent actors and producers were beaten in the street and then arrested for protesting the crackdown. That same month, the composer of the uprising’s most popular chant was found dead, his body thrown in a river with his throat slit and vocal cords removed as warning to those who might follow suit.

These acts of savagery against artists and celebrities might have succeeded in deterring people in years past, but in the age of satellite television, new media and social networking sites, they are now only feeding the people’s outrage. After watching Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans overthrow their long-time dictators, the Syrian people refuse to be dragged back into oppressive silence. They will not let this historic opportunity to win their freedom pass them by.

But as with Egypt and Libya, the Syrian people cannot do it alone. The regime’s instruments of repression are too strong and well entrenched. They need the will and resources of the international community to give life to a new Syria, one that respects its citizens and is a force for stability in an otherwise tumultuous, but vital, part of the world.

Some in Washington and elsewhere balk at the idea of involvement in yet another predominantly Muslim country. Others argue that international intervention only plays to the regime’s advantage. These people should listen to the voices of tens of thousands of Syrians taking to the streets every week, pleading for the international community to help stop the mass killings, torture and abductions.

Those targeted by the Assad regime are America's natural allies against al Qaeda and radical extremism. They are the cultural and intellectual leaders of the Syrian and Arab peoples: Men and women who have insisted from the beginning of this six-month uprising that it remain peaceful. If the international community turns its back on these protesters, it gives credence to al Qaeda’s argument that violence is the only way to overthrow Arab dictators and their silent backers in the West.

The Obama administration was slow at first, but has now taken a number of steps to align itself with the people of Syria, calling on Assad to go, freezing the financial assets of senior regime figures and working with European allies to target the export of Syrian oil. Still it could take months, perhaps even years, before such steps compel President Assad to end the killings. More needs to be done to hasten his departure and prevent him from transforming an otherwise peaceful popular uprising into a sectarian conflict that could spread to neighboring Lebanon and Iraq.

A full-fledged economic embargo, one signed on to by Turkey, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the League of Arab States would strangle regime finances and unravel the web of patronage networks the Syrian regime has built to sustain itself. Through multilateral diplomacy and leadership, we must build on growing Arab willingness to act as the Arab League meets in an emergency session on Syria on Saturday.

But as with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in America, this is primarily a peoples’ struggle, not a struggle between states and competing world powers. As such, international thought leaders, activists and celebrities have an important role to play in seeing that their Arab counterparts find their long-silenced voice and help guide their societies to a better future.

Perhaps one-day Jon Stewart will host Ali Farzat on The Daily Show. This would be a bittersweet moment for many Syrian and Arab fans of both men.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Firas Maksad.

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Topics: Culture • Human Rights • Syria

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. shamsi

    The Syrians and also Iranians need all the international help they can get. The world needs to hear their voice, and help them in their struggle to get back their civil rights, freedom and live free.

    August 27, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      @Shamsi, I agree with you. Just as the author said: "this is primarily a peoples’ struggle, not a struggle between states and competing world powers."
      Military intervention in Syria – in short term – could spark an escalation of the crisis. Assad will have all support of the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the theocrats in Iran, if western forces attack Assad. The whole region will be destabilised and we will see casualties en masse. Are the Syrians prepared for that?
      The other alternative would be to stick to peaceful demonstrations, till Assad gives in one day! How long can he carry on with this barbaric slaughtering? I think the number of lives sacrificed in demonstrations would be more controllable than the one in a civil war!

      August 28, 2011 at 6:52 am | Reply
    • Onesmallvoice

      Come on shamsi, you better than that! NATO has no business intervening in Syria, but unfortunately, it will tragically enough, dealing yet another blow to Islam!!!

      August 28, 2011 at 11:43 am | Reply
    • khaled

      There IS an important point about iran . If NATO decided to go in military strikes for the Syrian regime IRAN will not get involve because IRAN can not expose there Nuclear reactors for the military stikes . specialy that IRAN in its way to make an nuclear bomb.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:35 am | Reply
  2. sharky

    Yes give Syrian opposition help, waste MORE money, and P.O royally the Iranians. Well done. Grand idea. If my country gets involved in this, we can make out the monumental gravestone for it, Here Lays the Once Grand USA.

    I have a question, why are the Muslim/Arab countries in the region NOT doing much.

    August 27, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Reply
    • kar

      Because most of the Muslim/Arab countries in the area are autocrats themselves. It's illogical to expect them to put down autocrats in other Arab countries.

      As far as how we're interested:
      1. Al Qaida's ideological foundation is that it must use violence to achieve political goals. Look at Sayyid Qutb for more info.
      2. The U.S. advocates for human rights and democracy. That message is pretty weak if we turn our backs on those fighting for change using largely peaceful methods.
      3. Much of the reason the U.S. is hated in the Middle East is because we support dictators. This is our chance to get on the side of the people.

      Also, to give you some perspective: Libya cost us $1.2 billion. Iraq+Afghanistan cost $1.2 trillion. DoD costs $650b/year. Limited foreign intervention and international pressure aren't contributing hugely to our budget, so stop pretending they are. Try analyzing the benefits of a Syria sans dictator too.

      August 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  3. Ram

    "Those targeted by the Assad regime are America's natural allies against al Qaeda and radical extremism. They are the cultural and intellectual leaders of the Syrian and Arab peoples: Men and women who have insisted from the beginning of this six-month uprising that it remain peaceful"
    That is funny, especially what you call "cultural and intellectual leaders of the Syrian and Arab peoples"
    This fact is absolutley the opposite, as extremeists started to show up after the "peacful protests" started, those protestors slaughtered, killed, chopped, strangled, and hanged many of policemen live on videos (available) just because they are not "True believers" in Islam, imagining that the instruction given by their spiritual leader called"sheikh ar'our" who is living in KSA, will guarantee a place in Heaven for them,
    It's the first time in the Syrian public life we hear such slogans such as "Christians go to beirut, Alawites go to the graves!"
    "Peaceful protestors" armed with rifles, guns, grenades, killed over 500 policemen and army soldiers so far.
    "Peaceful protestors" destroyed the train railway used by innocent civilians, to spread the fear and terror among people who refused their "peaceful approach"
    "Peaceful protestors" destroyed the oil pipeline near one of the most important lakes in Syria, on which, hundreds of thousands depend as a water resource.
    "Peaceful protestors" dropping explosives in all Syrian cities, among civilians, after realizing that no one is listeneing to them good enough!
    I do not agree with what happened to Mr. Farzat, which is still tooooooo early to say that the regime did it, but for millions of Syrian who support the regime, Mr. Farzat is one of dozens of people who are providing a ligitimate intellectual cover to those murdurers who are killing syrians in the name of the revolution.

    August 28, 2011 at 3:21 am | Reply
    • Omar

      All this garbage about peaceful...with cries of "ALLAH OU AKBAR", the fact that the protests either start from or in the mosques and the trademark killing techniques of these peaceful protestors (beheading and dragging bodies, etc)...shows that these ppl are not natural allies against al-Qaeda (most of their moral support – and allegedly financial – also comes from Islamic figures in Saudi or Qatar, who are not known for their tolerance or progressiveness – in fact one of them got “married” to a 14 year old – and let's not forget al-Qaeda itself has thrown its support behind these protests – ironically along with the so called "free-west")...The only thing these protestors care about is that the President is not Sunni...not more or less...The west can believe what it wants, and its media, always hungry for sensationalist romantic stories can drum the democracy/freedom angle all they want...those of us who live in the region and who are Syrian can not take a risk with our lives and our families because Saudi Arabia (the NUMBER ONE TERRORIT NATION ON EARTH) wants to twist Iran's arm...

      And Mr. Maksad...thank you for encouraging the west to deprive and eventually starve Syrians with their sanctions and their intervention (that worked great in Iraq...and Libya's future seems soo bright now)..but you are a self-appointed/proclaimed "middle east activist" that represents no one...don’t ever forget that and don’t confuse CNN's printing of your propaganda as a sign of legitimacy

      August 28, 2011 at 3:49 am | Reply
  4. sjdsh

    Firas Maksad stfu
    Richard Haas,president of the Illuminati Council on Foreign Relations which directs US foreign policy,has admitted that the NATO bombing of Libya was Never about protecting civilians(ridiculous),but simply to remove Gaddafi for our own 'interests'.He has also now calls for an ‘international force’ to occupy the country and ‘maintain order’.
    So many just buy the lie no matter what the era or generation.
    As Adolf Hitler said: ‘Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it,and eventually they will believe it!’ Not that it really matters,this just makes transition to set agenda easier...less bloody perhaps.
    His propaganda chief,Joseph Goebbels:‘The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly,confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over again.'
    Hitler also said, with equal relevance: ‘ What luck for the rulers that men do not think!’ "

    August 28, 2011 at 7:05 am | Reply
    • kar

      To start, Richard Haass has a history of saying fairly ridiculous things, and I don't think the president's always listening. If Haass had his way, we would have ignored Libya completely. While the later air fight was clearly one-sided, the initial intervention was very much about preventing a massacre; if you're in doubt, look up Abu Salim prison.

      As for a prolonged ground force, I don't think Obama's ready to start another Afghanistan or Iraq. The multilateral force that might be needed to maintain stability is another issue, not war profiteering, as you seem to be suggesting.

      August 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  5. Ben

    Agree with sjdsh, Mr. Maksad it's people like you who have no idea what's going on but like to make the world believe that they know it all. First off in Syria there are armed thugs which have attacked and slaughtered soldiers and civilians, some have even been dressing up in stolen official uniforms with the soul purpose of making things look in a way they are not. i'm not saying that the syrian regime is 100% innocent, but you'd have to be a fool and an extreme political noob to honestly believe that the Syrian gov't would get out of it's way to get a cartoonist given all the media pressure and focus on the that regime, they are not this dumb, actually they have proven to be much smarter than the rest of the leaders in the area of course unless your main source of information is anything related to Rupert Murdoch's empire. The Syrian president has co-operated with the people's demands, if you look around at the very few past months in the middle east, Egypt, Libya, Yemen etc, the protests started in the capital, and the protestors asked for reform and when their demands were not met they escalated the protests which in turn became violent, in Syria this was not the case, protests started with bloodshed from very small cities on the borders and no where near the capital (which already tells you something is fishy about the situation – rightful people with legitimate demands will protest without fear in the capital like in Cairo, Sanaa, Manama), the gov't is offering reform and is already taking realistic steps into change. Another thing, go back in history and check out what Syria was before the Assad's took control... for those of you who don't know, there was a civil war almost every other day, the Assad's were the only people to put it under control. What are you preaching for? we've seen what comes out of the west, i mean look at Iraq, look at any country the west tried to make a democracy, I am totally convinced that the Syrians are better off with the Assad's than with an American "democratic" Iraq like Syria. You do not have the slightest idea of what's going on in Syria you do not have any reliable proof of anything you have said. And since when does the west care about the Arabs? Syria is heaven compared to Saudi Arabia where the simplest of human freedoms are forbidden, why doesn't America force Saudi's into democracy? I'll answer that, because Saudi Arabia is not a threat to Israel meanwhile the Syrian regime is, it supports the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance from the unlawful and illegal occupations of the Arab lands by the Zionists. And let's suppose Syria did this to this cartoonist, doesn't the American democracy do the same? Christopher Bollyn for instance (conspiracy theorist or not, he still has the right of speech) was beaten for expressing his right against Zionists in the heart of America, George Galloway is another, and there's many more. Assuming your info is right (which it's not) the Syrians have the same systems as the ones you have in the USA this is not to mention the Patriot Act which in fact does put Syria in a better democratic shape than America.

    August 28, 2011 at 10:19 am | Reply
  6. Onesmallvoice

    Knowing how the right-wing thugs in Washington operate, the so-called "opposition" in Syria will either sooner or later get NATO support. I noticed how all these lame-brained fools are posting in here in favor of it. These people are only proving just how easily they can be brainwashed by the right-wing news media!!!

    August 28, 2011 at 11:39 am | Reply
    • Ben

      NATO will not interfere if they could, they would of already, and why can't you view yourself as brainwashed? I am not a supporter of the Syrian regime, in Lebanon we have dealt with their invasion and their ruthlessness for a long period of time, but if you speak what's best for the Syrian people, and with history as my proof, they are better off with the Assad's than anything the NATO EU and USA has in mind for them. nothing good has ever come out from the west sticking their nose where it does not belong, prove me wrong with examples, western media invented brainwashing, ever since you are born you've been watching and reading Rupert Murdoch's one sided news.

      The case in Syria has taken such huge publicity simply because the fall of the Syrian regime will only benefit the Zionist state, which is in fact a terrorist state (this point is proven on a daily basis by media every where other than the western brainwashing news agencies like this website), the US and the west want you to believe that they are doing this for the Syrians, which is the biggest lie and again only a political beginner would believe. If they care so much for the freedom and democracy why won't the west interfere with the issues in Bahrain? why don't you hear anything about what's going on in Manama? holy places are being destroyed people have been jailed by the thousands including doctors, nurses etc... there are protests on a daily basis against the regime who is far more ruthless than the Assad regime, but you know what the current rulers of Bahrain guarantee the existence of the American 5th Fleet and that's why you don't hear about it on the other side of the world. Do you really want another Iraq? and about the embargoes, who does it affect? does it not affect the Syrian people? How can you honestly claim that you care about people's freedom and security and all that baggage when you turn around and sanction them.

      August 28, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  7. khaled


    August 30, 2011 at 3:37 am | Reply
    • khaled


      August 30, 2011 at 3:55 am | Reply
    • John

      I feel for the people of Israel... they will suffer when hell will break loose with islamists in the north, east and south! What will they do when those who faught alongside the talibans in afghanistan and the insugents in irak will push their way to Israel.
      Maybe a small Nuclear bomb in Baghdad will ripple through to jordan, syria and turkey and this will open the road to the jewish state from sea to river. God bless israel!

      September 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  8. khaled

    assad will not falls in easy way because assad clan fight as a religius duty they will not care for the Sanctions . and iran support him with billions of dollars . he has 120000 of alawit soliders just under his brother maher . Except for the security forces which are alawite 95% . so he will not fall if there are no Military strikes . also the Military strikes will Encourage the other soliders to Defecting the army .

    August 30, 2011 at 3:38 am | Reply
  9. Anthony

    Firas, i can see very clearly who the thug is when i read your accusation about the horrible incident that occurred against Ali Firzat. I really think you did not follow what you learnt in your journalism college about professionalism when dealing with alleged news. you jumped to a conclusion that the Syrian regime committed this horrible act based on unsubstantiated evidence and I really know you , as an Arab, jumped to this statement for one reason that just you and I know and your poor readers have no clue.

    September 10, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Reply

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