The story of an old joke

Head of the Syrian National Coalition appears on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, September 29, 2014.
Head of the Syrian National Coalition appears on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, September 29, 2014.

Now that our plight has become the butt of jokes on late night comedy shows in the United States and Europe, and a variety of “light” newspaper editorials, we can rest assured that our misery will not end any time soon, and that our aspirations for freedom will have to be consigned to the farthest of the backburners currently burning. Pardon me if I cannot bring myself to laugh. The pain of it all aside, the joke is simply too old and predictable.

On the other hand, have you wondered why didn’t Jon Stewart host any Syrian activist back in 2011 or 2012 when the revolution was still a mostly nonviolent phenomenon? No, this is not a public relations failure on part of the opposition; Mr. Stewart and his team set their own agenda, and the lack of any coverage of the situation in Syria at the time was the product of a conscious decision on their part. The situation was too black-and-white at the time: Assad and his loyalist militias were engaged in mass slaughter against nonviolent protesters and their civilian supporters, the rebels were few at the time and were mostly made up of nationalist defectors taking defensive positions trying to protect their communities. Covering this situation would have put a tremendous pressure on the Obama Administration to do something, a position that Stewart did not support for ideological reasons very similar to those of President Obama. Stewart even had a problem with Obama’s redline on the issue of use of chemical weapons. He thought the President was unwise to draw such a line, and that the whole thing came as a result of unstudied utterances and statements on part of the President and not a clear policy decision. He was right. But that also means that, for Stewart, even the use of chemical weapons was no ground for intervention in Syria. And herein the problem.

The case for humanitarian intervention is no longer supported by liberals, the very people who played a major role in pushing for the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect.

Before that, when the cause of change in the Middle East was taken on by conservatives under the Bush Administration, it was taken with a messianic zeal that blinded officials to the intricacies of the politics and social dynamics of the places in which they intervened. As a result, few conservatives back humanitarian intervention today, except rhetorically and by way of embarrassing the Obama Administration.

So, what do America’s political elite and public figures do or demand be done when faced with a situation wherein a cold-hearted regime is mercilessly mowing down unarmed oppositionists? The answer seems to be “nothing,” that is, until the situation gives birth to extremist groups and comically complicated dynamics that could jeopardize certain perceived and certain people’s sense of security. When that happens our protagonists end up endorsing intervention, albeit reluctantly; and because they are reluctant, and they are dealing with a situation that is now complicated beyond belief, their plans fall short of what is required to make a real difference in the situation.

This brings back to where we started: on the farthest backburner conceivable; our aspirations for a better life having been dashed, and our misery having become fodder for old, cynical and downright idiotic jokes. It might take our comedians a few more decades if not centuries before they realize that the joke is on them as well.