The Lesson of Hama
By N. Shuldig
History is a sober teacher; it brings us back to reality. The lesson of Hama is one of those lessons that unfortunately need to be retold.
Hama is/was a one of the largest cities in Syria, at least before February of 1982. Hama is a Sunni Muslim town with about 180,000 inhabitants. It was a very conservative city and a breeding ground for Muslim fundamentalists which were opposed to the Rule of then President Hafez Assad.
Assad was not a Sunni Muslim, he came from a different group, the Alawites, a small group of Muslims that come from the north of Syria only about 10 to 12 million. Nonetheless, Assad and his fellow Alawites, through the Baath party, controlled Syria.
The Muslim Brotherhood, an underground group of militant fundamentalists, took exception to the modernization of the Syrian society by Assad. They exhibited their extreme displease of the Baath party and its policies by weekly terror attacks in Syria, bombings outside of government institutions or shootings of government officials. The government tried to counter them but to little avail. With each successful terror attack the Muslim Brotherhood became bolder and their actions became more aggressive. Backed by most of the poor and merchant class of Hama, incited by the local Imams, they attacked President Assad as he was waiting to welcome a visiting chief of state. Assad escaped with a foot injury, but the lesson was taken very seriously. This was in 1980. His brother, Rifaat was given the order to extract retribution. Some 600 to 1000 Muslim Brotherhood prisoners were arrested, tortured and killed. The bodies were buried in a large common grave outside the prison.
Throughout the next years, searches of Hama and other Muslim Brotherhood strongholds became common. Executions of those suspected of anti-government activities were swiftly done on the spot. Those taken in for questioning were subject to torture of the most brutal type. The Muslim Brotherhood answered in kind and escalated even further the hostilities.
Finally in February 1982, President Assad decided to end the Hama Muslim Brotherhood problem completely. Rifaat was entrusted with the task of quieting down Hama. He brought in a large number of troops who entered the city with lists of those persons whom the army wished to detain. However, the Muslim Brotherhood had been tipped off ahead of this time and prepared for the troops. As the Syrian troops walked deep inside the narrow alleys of the city, the Muslim Brotherhood fighters waited patiently in ambush, letting the troops enter into the narrow streets and once they were surrounded, they attacked them and causing many casualties.
As the army retreated in dismay from the city, the city's loudspeakers rejoiced proclaiming that the city was liberated from Assad. A call for a Jihad throughout the country against Assad and his Baath party was made that all faithful Muslims were to take their weapons a join in the fight to drive the 'infidel' Assad from their midst. They hoped to inspire a national rebellion. Defenses were set up for the inevitable counter attack.
The army regrouped and brought in tanks. But first they cut off the city from the outside - no power or telephone isolating the rebels from any outside support or contact. Soldiers who were natives of Hama were sent to a different area before the battle began. At first the tanks met fierce opposition from both Molotov cocktails and rocket-propelled launchers. Originally the tactic was to isolate the Muslim Brotherhood and destroy them, but it soon became apparent that after hours of street fighting they were well hidden within the various neighborhoods.
Rifaat changed tactics by using tanks and helicopters for bombardments of the neighborhoods in which the Brotherhood had its support. Almost every building in Hama received damage; those in the Brotherhood neighborhoods were totally destroyed. It took about three weeks of merciless bombing until the army met their target of totally destroying any opposition. Afterwards the Army continued to dynamite the buildings, mosques, and markets until the areas were reduced to rubble. Bulldozers were then called in to finish smoothing over the areas where once neighborhoods flourished. The entire Muslim religious leadership in Hama was liquidated.
During this time no news reporters were allowed near the area. No mention of the battle was allowed in the media until well after the total destruction was completed. Interestingly enough afterwards, the numbers of dead were grossly inflated by Assad. It was estimated that between 10,000 to 15,000 were killed (no small number!); Assad put the number closer to 30,000 to instill fear in the rest of his people.
Assad was not alone in massacring his people. His neighbor Sadaam Hussein also massacred several thousand of his Kurdish Iraqi citizens whom he suspected of rebelling.
Yet for all the blood that was shed, they eventually achieved their end: a stable government and a terrified population too frightened to do anything against the government.
* * *
Today, Islamic fundamentalists are the leading exporter and perpetrator of terror worldwide. America supposedly invaded Iraq to stop terrorism, but instead, they brought increased terror attacks from Arab groups on to other Arab groups in Iraq. There is not a week that can pass in which there are not large numbers of Iraqi citizens who are killed by in-state terror attacks. There seems to be no limit to the number of suicide attackers who are willing to die killing their perceived enemies. Life in Iraq lacks the stability that it had under Sadaam Hussein.
The Gaza Strip is another example of Islam running wild. Fighting between the Hamas and the Fatah brought much suffering to the indigent Arab citizens who perhaps would like just to come home at night, eat dinner and watch television with the family. Iran is an Islamic revolutionary country that threatens the world stability as it continues to threaten Israel with its demise - the indigenous population is frightened by the Islamic fundamental police.
What can we learn from this and what can be done?
I believe that the concept of Democracy that we of the Western world hold so dear is not yet applicable in the Arab countries. Democracy requires a certain educational level and institutional tradition which is sorely lacking in the Arab countries. Arabs are used to rule by force, not by vote and majority consent. Their rulers are either monarchs or dictators yet with this type of dictatorship, there is a certain type of peace and continuity to life in their countries that is necessary. When all citizens feared the government, crime levels were tolerable, graft and corruption livable and people in these Arab countries lived their lives in a stable manner.
It was only when the West tried to force from the outside its liberal concepts of Democracy on a people who were not intellectually prepared or willing to accept the responsibilities of it, that all went wrong.
Although the most sane people abhor killing, it was only through the mass murders of fanatic Islamic fundamentalists that the citizens of Syria learned the limits of speech, that the radical clerics learned that it was better to hold their tongues than face horrific tortures for advocating disrespect and worse for the ruling authorities, and only because of this, the simple man was able to live a stable and bearable life.
It is unfortunate that today, the West is trying to coerce the Arabs into adapting liberal democratic value. When democratic values work in educated counties which are steeped in liberal tradition, we must realize that it just does not work in a land with no tradition of liberalism or democracy.
Perhaps for us, Western cultural benefited individuals, who have attained a reasonable level of education and sophistication that democracy works, but it is best left to the Arab dictators and monarchs themselves to lead their own people in the manner in which they will bring stability. Certainly liberal education and institutions should be encouraged, even bringing economic pressures, but change should be within the existing system, not imported from an alien culture.
In addition, by giving anti-democratic groups, such as Hamas and Ahmadinejad, the benefits of liberal democratic liberties, they use it to their advantage to fight against these very liberties. Before democracy can penetrate Islamic lands, those fascistic anti-democratic forces must be muzzled, and the population must undergo an educational process that will teach them to respect the democratic ideals. This is certainly no simple matter and cannot just materialize over night.
Allowing Islamic fundamentalists' freedom of speech is worse that yelling fire in a crowded theater, it is inviting destruction of Western civilization.
I believe the lesson of Hama is clear. Islamic fundamentalists must be denied any democratic privileges and instead must be destroyed. A tough interim government should be set up to promote democratic ideals such as liberal education specifically forbidding hate filled dogmas from being spread in schools and mosques. The purpose of government is to promote the common good. "Pray for the peace of the government, for without it, one man would swallow up his friend." (Perkei Avot)
from the November 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine