The More Things Change, the Worse They Get

By: Mort Rosenblum

Events in Syria turn the old French ”plus Ça change” adage on its head. The more things change there, the worse they get. President Bashar al-Assad promised to lighten up when he replaced his tyrant father, but his rule grew geometrically more ugly. Today, thanks to brave souls and satellites, we can see through the old veils at just how bad it is. And, still, no one seems able to do much to help.

The front page of the International Herald Tribune on February 12, 1982.

In February 1982, the New York Times’ John Kifner and an Associated Press reporter, me, happened to be in Damascus when Muslim Brothers arose against Baathist rule. Diplomats told us that tanks ringing the ancient city of Hama were blasting away blindly to quell the insurgency.

My dispatch led the International Herald Tribune, but security thugs chased me across the border before I could file again.

Kifner produced three of his masterful stories, describing thousands dead, before the goons found him.

Neither of us got near Hama.

The government called our reports “expressions of dreams” and blamed Washington. By the time others saw the death toll rise toward 20,000, the uprising was over. Then, as now, visas were hard to come by. Reporting was limited to newspapers, radio and the odd footage on broadcast television. And authorities kept the lid on.

The previous year, a Syrian hit squad in Beirut shot Reuters’ Bernd Debusmann in the back when he refused to heed warnings not to report on a security crackdown. His colleague, Harvey Morris, Rendezvous’s own Europe blogger, later went to Damascus. The information minister gave the clear, if unspoken, impression that the government was responsible and that it wouldn’t happen again.

Today, artful interplay is over. Brutal, sustained shelling in Homs targeted the compound of an underground news agency run by the best sort of “citizen journalists.” The dead, as we all know, included the correspondent Marie Colvin of the London Sunday Times, whose legendary courage and commitment inspired others over two decades.

Marie’s face, with her iconic eye patch recalling a close call in Sri Lanka, was splashed across front pages, television screens and uncounted computers around the world. For all the danger, international reporters and Syrian volunteers keep us informed. It’s a new world now. And yet it’s the same old Syria — only worse.

Source: New York Times

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