Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Philosophy of Tyranny

Stalin once said that half a million deaths is a statistic but the death of one is a tragedy. As Syrians we've stopped registering shock at the news of a hundred deaths a day in the country. We don't bat an eyelid, and might even change the news channel upon hearing of it. Fatigue sets in, and our troubled minds look for entertainment and something to distract us. Then the deaths no longer make the news, because the news is not about what is worthy but about what people are talking about. Of course there will always be those few who will keep talking, and they will slowly pass through the curtain of respectability and we will quietly categorize them as the fringe, as the extreme. The numbers eventually don't matter and they fade into statistics.

Then you sit down at a dinner table with somebody who has never voiced outrage about the outrageous but has plenty to say about those victims who dared to cry out - Why did you cry out? Didn't you know it would only get worse? Now you've spoiled it for everybody. You should have just kept your mouth shut. That is what they mean as they quietly present their "point of view", as if we are discussing fly fishing and not mass murder. Here, in the comfort of a civilized country, we can pretend to be other than what we are, and as sensible people we surely cannot be taken in by the extreme rantings of people who wish to disturb the peace - Oh and by the way, you did hear about such and such barbarism that the riff-raff claimed to be carrying out in the name of this so-called freedom? Oh you didn't? Well I've heard it on good authority that... - and so on and so forth. I sit and seethe, eventually losing my composure. I say more than I meant to say, and with a louder tone. I speak quickly, because I feel as if there is no time to lose, and inwardly I curse my hastiness. I feel as if Truth is a flower that is about to be stamped out. I tell myself this is all quite illogical, that it's clear that what is happening is obvious to all. But later, as the angry fever subsides, I realise that what terrifies me is the fading of memories. That at some point, those gentle lies will continue to grow and spread and take root.

Solzhenitsyn knew about Stalin, and he wrote about the Lie. He knew that the violence cannot sustain itself without the Lie. Assad's friends know about the Lie as well. They know how to cultivate it like a weed, and then they help to gently spread it wherever it can grow. When it covers everything then they will be happy, because their job is done and the violence is stabilized. Everything Assad learnt about the violence, he learnt from his father, who, in turn, learnt a lot from Stalin. So we too should learn from those who came before us. We should learn about Solzhenitsyn and about the Lie. We should know that its harmlessness threatens us all, that it is the life support for Assad's violence. We cannot stop his violence, but we can stop the Lie and in this way deny tyranny a shelter. We must force this tyranny out into the open and expose its ugliness and brutality, that nobody can be under any illusion about it. Only when the brutality is seen for what it truly is that it can die out, because it cannot sustain itself by naked violence alone.

There are some who might think that we can counter a lie with a lie and they are right to a certain extent, but the point is not to counter Assad's lies, the point is to destroy them. To do that we only need to say the truth. It is this truth which can be used to shame those people who are outwardly good but justify such evil. When they only use their freedom of speech to deny it to others, in the civilized discussions where they can present their "point of view", they use the Lie shamelessly, and are only silenced by the truth. The only weapon they have against the truth is time and the frailty of human memory and so they wait and listen in silence. A year passes, then two. Assad digs in and from his bunker in Damascus wages war upon those who will not worship him. One day, he knows, people will grow tired and forget. Then he can maintain with the Lie what he could only seize with violence. Until then, he waits, and waits and waits while the killing goes on.


Binh said...

Powerful piece.

Confusezeus said...

What you call teh Lie is really part of the mind game that is essential in giving the tyrant his power. Promoting the lie, or the narrative of the regime amounts to support of the regime and maintaining its power. Confirming the lie is what gives Assad a license to kill his people. No observation is innocent from this whether intended or not.