Two Episodes of House of Assad, made by Film72 for the BBC, have already been broadcast, but are still available on Iplayer (October 2018.) One of our themes on Christian Rethink is not only that truth is the first casualty of war, but that it needs to be killed or in Intensive Care before a war even begins. This is because lies are normally necessary to get a war started. The House of Assad episodes, or at least the two broadcast so far, are worth watching for the incredible divide between the statements the producers make about Bashar Assad on one hand, and the evidence they themselves present on the other.
Presented at the beginning of Episode 1 is the way staff in a London Hospital suddenly found out that one of their rather quiet Eye Surgeons was the son of the President of Syria. A Syrian patient, who must already have recognised the name and nationality of Dr Assad, reacts with joy when her sight is restored and she sees who her Doctor really is. It is also explained that Bashar once read a book about blindness, and was so moved that he wanted to be an Eye Surgeon. It is further explained in Episode 2 that he loved the satisfaction of being an Eye Surgeon, but didn’t like being President since it was rather like walking through glue (his sentiment, my words.) Opthalmology was a calling, being President was a duty. He only become President because his Brother, who was chosen for the role, died in an accident. Those of us who are past our youth have mostly noticed that people do not change; their situation may do so, but rarely the basic personality. It is therefore natural to assume that Bashar hasn’t changed, meaning that there is a caring Doctor in the role of President; not the usual hard-man politician or soldier who has fought his way to the top. The latter definition probably applies to Bashar’s father. The programme tells us repeatedly that it also applies to Bashar, but the evidence they give almost always points the other way.
The programme also repeatedly puts down Bashar’s wife, Asma. She was born in London. She is very much an Anglophile Syrian, as Bashar himself is. (Note Bashar chose to live and work in Britain. With his wealth, he could have been a playboy in Monaco, or anything else, anywhere else he wanted.) Asma is beautiful, intelligent and energetic. She worked in an Investment Bank in London, and gave up on a Harvard course to marry Bashar. By all accounts they have an excellent marriage, with three children. Asma wants to support her husband and her country, and does all she can in those directions. Where’s the problem?
The programme also cherry-picks facts on a grand scale. They claim Bashar released Jihadis from prison to fight against USA and Co in Iraq. The implication was that if, for example, Syrian forces were busy invading and occupying Canada, the USA would have done nothing. How absurd! Bashar had to ponder whether Syria would be next after Iraq, so was taking defensive action, assuming the allegation is true. Events since have shown that Syria was indeed next on the list, along with Libya, which has already been trashed and balkanised.
The issue of Jihadis in Syrian prisons could more truthfully have taken the programme on a different tack. Who were these Jihadis, and why were they there? The reason is that there was a violent uprising that lasted six years in Syria around 1980. The rebels were Sunni Islamists, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria was then, and is now, a secular state. In Syria you can be an atheist, a Sunni, a Shia, an Alawite, or a Druze. You can even go to Church, as a great many Syrians still do. Many Syrians stood to lose a great deal, even their lives, if Islamists took power. When the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Egypt after the Arab Spring, they were soon displaced by a coup from the US-backed Egyptian Military. President Erdogan of Turkey is also Muslim Brotherhood; notice how he manages to be at odds with Syria, and with the Kurds, and with secular Turks, and with the USA. Syria was defending itself against people the West has absolutely no time for. Is this a reason for criticism?
The sequel to the 80’s uprising is particularly ugly. The opposition in the disastrous Syrian War is mainly Muslim Brotherhood and their fellow travellers (ISIS is also Sunni.) There were genuine democrats involved in the demonstrations, especially at the beginning, but they were very much used as a front by the Islamists. And when the US gave massive military support and training to the “moderate” opposition, they found that it had almost all accidentally fallen into the hands of the Islamists. That’s what used to be called “accidentally on purpose” in my Primary School. No mention is made in the programmes of the massive Jihadi and external threats to Syria. No recognition that Bashar has had to toughen up to deal with these threats, as well as the risks presented by his own family (which does indeed appear to be fairly toxic, based on what the programme shows.)
In Episode 2 the programme presents a very convincing case for the Syrian Government, if not Bashar himself, being responsible for the 2005 assassination in Lebanon of Rafiq Hariri. But the damage done to Syria by the assassination, heavily emphasised by the programme, is good reason to believe that it was carried out by an enemy of Syria. Cui bono? No mention of this. And nothing like the detailed Wikipedia article here which points to Hezbollah. The truth is, we simply don’t know.
The vital question here is why the BBC wants to demonise Assad at this point in time. Russian help has seen him beat off ISIS. Only three significant areas of Syria now remain outside of Government control. The biggest is held by the (US backed) Kurds, with whom Bashar seems willing to negotiate. Second is the area around Tanf, held by the Americans, who are there without UN approval or Syrian permission. The third is in Idlib, is small, and has a demilitarized zone policed by the Russians and others. This is causing some to say that the War is over. And if the USA and the Brotherhood-supporting Turks left the country, it would be quite soon. So is this not a good time to support the Anglophile Doctor and his British-Syrian wife? To help them to rebuild their country and repatriate five million Syrian refugees? It seems not. The mission is to demonise Bashar, and the most obvious reason for that is to justify another war against Syria. As we said, truth is the first casualty of war. Governments need to kill it off to allow them to start one.
See also the piece here by Neil Clark, a journalist who has written for The Guardian, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph among others. This article is on RT; it’s unlikely that any British media would carry it.
See too these items from Australian TV. They feature Australian-Syrian Maram Susli, who blogs on Youtube as “Syrian Girl Partisan”. In the first, here, she is allowed to say that the Syrian opposition is mostly Muslim Brotherhood, which would not “Pass Go” in the UK media. In the second, here, although goaded to say “Assad should go”, she makes clear that she and others are not Assad fans, but see him currently as by far the best option for the people of Syria.
UPDATE 23 October 2018
The third episode has now been broadcast. No better than the last two. It gives the impression that ISIS appeared almost by accident as a result of peaceful protests being put down in a brutal way. At only one point in the whole episode is the Muslim Brotherhood actually mentioned. (No mention at all in episodes 1 and 2!) The remarkable speed with which peaceful protesters acquired both small arms and heavy weapons, or who supplied them, is ignored. The programme also completely ignores the fact that Assad knew this was a Muslim uprising from the start. He knew that secular government, freedom of religion, and huge numbers of Alawites, Christians, Atheists and others would not survive a Jihadi takeover. He was not fighting just for himself and his family as the programme claims. He was fighting to maintain the established order in the country, just as any other Head of State would.
Assad’s wife also gets more stick for not leaving him and the country when she had great opportunities to do so. No credit for loyalty, bravery, determination or anything else on her part. Only a bland assumption that she must be wrong-headed for staying with the “abominable Bashar”. An assumption that the series consistently voiced, but equally consistently failed to prove.
Was there excessive brutality in the Government’s early responses? Certainly there was. But even the programme admits that Bashar is not happy with this. He is surrounded by his (largely toxic) family and the institutions and people established by his Father. He even has to “watch his back” with regard to some of his own relatives. And losing control to ISIS or Al Quaeda would have been a catastrophic outcome.
The programme also uses a great deal of emotional appeal about the horror of war. All wars are absolutely vile. These appeals are not only a substitute for evidence that the programme makers wanted but couldn’t find; they are also sheer hypocrisy. Nobody would ever guess from watching the programme that Churchill and “Bomber” Harris, the Head of Bomber Command in World War Two, bombed German civilians as a matter of policy. Or that the Americans fire-bombed most Japanese cities before they dropped the Atomic Bombs. Or that they bombed civilians in Vietnam, or that women and children, so-called “collateral damage”, died in Iraq. War is an abomination, whoever starts it, whoever is fighting in it.
The media constantly puts forward the lie that wars are worthwhile so long as it’s “our heroes” “over there” dealing with the “bad guys”. This is nothing but pro-war propaganda. And it’s not only centred on Syria, or Afghanistan, or North Korea. All the recent “commemoration” of World War One completely omits the fact that two supposedly Christian Nations were slaughtering each other. And that they were doing it without even a pretence of fighting for some Great Principle. Men enlisted to stop “The Hun” from “killing babies”. They’ll sign up again to stop Assad from “bombing hospitals.” When might we reach even a minimal commitment to no soldier pulling the trigger, unless his feet are firmly planted within the land his Grandparents inherited? When will “Christians”, apart from the Amish, notice that Matthew 5:44 doesn’t say “shoot your enemies”?