With Shakespeare in Damascus

Assad Puts behind him another eventful day’s endless chain of unpredicted reports, rumors, arrests, phone calls, meetings, bravados and whispers.

Assad 311 reuters (photo credit: reuters)
Assad 311 reuters
(photo credit: reuters)
Having finally delivered that much heralded, if little appreciated, speech in what passes here for a parliament, and having then been whisked away while staring through my limousine into a black-clad woman’s fired eyes and clenched fist – I climbed the palace’s rooftop.
Putting behind me another eventful day’s endless chain of unpredicted reports, rumors, arrests, phone calls, meetings, bravados and whispers – I took a deep breath and inhaled the crisp air that breezed in from beyond the Anti-Lebanon summits, where the sun was setting as peaceful as I used to be until that wretched peddler torched himself in godforsaken Tunis. As the ophthalmologist in me always preferred the sight of the eye to the sound of the ear, I let my exhausted gaze travel north, east, south and up, around the city, the land and the entire world, through the horizon, above the clouds, past the crescent, and into the heavens that dominate the sorry world into which I was born.
Riding the gathering crest of neon and traffic lights, dusk arrived wrapped in a happy mixture of orange, red and pinkish stripes, oblivious of the fresh blood puddles and empty cartridges that now ringed the land on which it was descending.
I love dusk. Like my political philosophy, it offers a unique mixture of maximum color, minimum change and imminent darkness. So as the winds of Palmyra crept to this beloved rooftop of mine, it came naturally to me to join dusk’s blurring of the lines between beauty and gloom, and to see in my hard day’s toil none of what my many pontiffs decried about it, and all the resolve, domination, power, honor, respect and fear that father commanded me to foster, command and deliver.
Ha, those idiots marching through the streets. “Freedom, freedom,” they shout. What do they know about freedom? If let loose for even just one hour, they wouldn’t have any idea where to turn and what to do. How would they get their little-people’s several monthly liras if not attached to our leash? Who would protect them if not my mustachioed generals, spies, cops and detectives, and who would tell them what to think, and who would tell them who their enemies are and what they are up to, if not me and the party I command? Not that idiocy is limited to one side of the field. When I cracked up today in front of the entire world’s TV cameras, I didn’t know what to laugh at harder: the self-styled experts who predicted I would announce a multiparty system, or the cheerleader who rose from the seat I gave him in the legislature and in the middle of my speech yelping: “Ya Bashar, you should be the leader of the whole world.”
I laughed because I suddenly remembered a visit I once paid to the House of Commons during my heady days in London, and now imagined this dude landing there and seeing what real lawmakers do, how they voice ideas that are actually theirs, how they hammer out bills, how they talk to the press, how they supervise government, yell at the prime minister, call elections and, if they feel like it, even besmirch duchess and prince.
Ah, the idiocy of it all. Hamas just said it stands by both the Syrian leadership and the Syrian people. I know it knows that’s a perfect paradox, much like my own statement to that applause machine, “we can delay the announcement of a political party’s formation but not a child’s meal,” as if one precludes the other.
Well, my country isn’t Britain, and my father wasn’t Churchill. We were not born so serve the people, but to rule them. Right? “RIGHT,” A hoarse voice suddenly emerged from the dark.
“Who is there?” I demanded.
“I am thy father’s spirit,” said the voice.
“Doomed for a certain term to walk the night And for the day confined to fast in fire Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away.’ “Ya baba!” I cried and fell on my knees.
”Ya Bashar, rise up on your long feet and tell me: it’s been un-peaceful up here of late, what’s going on down there, where I last left you and the great Arab nation.”
“Ah, the people, that wretched lot, they see too much TV and they want what we cannot give.”
“They always wanted things, but while things we seldom gave, wanting we never banned.”
“Yes, but these people don’t just want; they demand, rampage, shout and march, they have ripped my photos and axed your statues.”
“Yes, yes, here too, a thousand fingers chase after me daily, cursing, fuming, abusing and shouting: ‘The serpent that stung Dar’a and whiplashed Latakia now wears his father’s crown.’ How far has all this reached?” “From Morocco to Bahrain, from Tunis to Yemen, and from Cairo to Damascus.”
“And don’t you all know what to do to? It’s getting out of hand up here, with all these fingers poking me in the eye while invisible mouths shout into my eardrums, ‘The gallows of Damascus, the dungeons of Aleppo, the tears of Latakia, the babies of Hama,’ as if out to further stoke the flames on which I already spend my days and chill the clouds which are the blankets of my sleep.”
“Times have changed, ya baba. Remember Gaddafi?” “How can I forget him?” “Well, he is old school. He went your way and did what you did.”
“And?” “They are now bombing him.”
“Who is ‘they’?”
“NATO. Americans, Brits, Italians, a whole Tower of Babel.”
“Even Greeks?” “Even Danes.”
“And tell me, what about our beloved Greater Syria? Have you clutched Beirut?” “I lost it to the Persians.”
“And Alexandretta?”
“Gave up on it, only to now hear the Turk join my moralizers.”
“And the Golan?”
"Never been more distant.”
“Walla, ya Bashar, you don’t mean to tell me you have been sitting idly in the face of all this. What have you harvested today, ya ibni: a hundred? Fifty? Or was it a mere dozen skulls?”
“Well herein lies the problem: Am I to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles?
To end up like you, neither sleep today nor die tomorrow? Is there really a way to end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to – ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.
To die, – to sleep; –
To sleep! perchance to dream For who would bear the whips and scorns of time?
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, the generals’ orders, the family’s nags,
The media’s censure, the spooks’ alarm, the people’s abuse,
Our enemies’ approach, and our allies retreat?
So now To kill a lot, or to kill a hell of a lot – that is the question.”