|Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez.|
On this day in 1971, Hafez Assad became president of Syria. More than 30 years later, the world is witnessing tragedy unfold in Syria at the hands of Assad’s son.
Bashar al-Assad, whom many had believed would bring reform to Syria, is turning out to be made of the stuff of his father.
Journalists like Tom Friedman and Robert Fisk saw firsthand the carnage the elder Assad was responsible for in Hama, where a 1982 Muslim Brotherhood-rebellion was quashed by shelling entire neighborhoods.
Now, Bashar al-Assad’s forces are targeting cities like Homs and Idlib, where Syrians have risen up in mass against tyranny.
In 1982, there were no instant images posted on Twitter and YouTube, no clandestine interviews conducted on mobile phones or Skype. Friedman journeyed to Hama after the massacre and gave this account:
“It was stunning. Whole swaths of buildings had, indeed, been destroyed and then professionally steamrolled into parking lots the size of football fields. If you kicked the ground, you’d come up with scraps of clothing, a tattered book, a shoe.”
Later he wrote a book and gave the massacre a name: “Hama Rules.” That is, there were no rules at all. Hafez Assad plunged to new lows to retain power.
Amnesty International said as many as 20,000 Syrians were killed in Hama. I wonder how high the death toll will rise in the current conflict. When will it end? How long will Bashar al-Assad keep killing his own people?
I wish I were able to be there, to bear witness to acts that should not be happening in 2012. I do my best to tell the story on CNN.com with the reporting of brave network correspondents, producers and cameramen. But I fear we are dealing with “Homs Rules.” A different time, different people but a son that seems just as determined to crush his opponents as was his father.
Perhaps I should have gone to see “The Artist” Saturday night. After all, it won the Oscar for best picture last night. But I saw “A Separation” instead.
It was an incredibly well-acted film dealing with a broken marriage that weaves trouble through the lives of ordinary people. It is about class divisions, family relationships, the power of religion and hope in every heart for a better life.
Only this film is Iranian. Set in Tehran, Westerners got a rare glimpse into the living rooms of Iranians dealing with the same kinds of problems we find at home, save the far-reaching tentacles of the Islamic regime.
Iranians stayed up late to watch the Oscars on illegal satellite feeds, enormously proud of the first Iranian film to win an Oscar (best foreign language film).
The timing could not have been better, I thought, as director Asghar Farhadi held up his golden statue. ”At a time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics,” he said.
I read this morning that even Israelis were flocking to see “A Separation.” Iranians are their arch-enemies and bellicose talk of late has led to speculation that Israel may launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran to stop its nuclear progress.
But ultimately, Israelis saw in the movie Iranians who were just like themselves. That spoke volumes for the universality of “A Separation.” People everywhere ultimately cope with the same problems — the ones that make us not American or Israeli or Iranian, but the ones that make us human.
“A Separation” is not always easy to watch. It was especially hard for me to look at the scenes of a man stricken with Alzheimer’s. I could see my own Baba.
But if you have not seen this movie, go soon to a theater near you. Ayatollahs and nuclear bombs aside, Iran has delivered a rare gem.
“A Separation” supplies no answers and is subtitled: “The Truth Divides.” But Iran is a country that remains largely unknown to Americans. Farhadi’s film, I believe, takes a few of the veils off.
|Marie Colvin lost an eye in Sri Lanka.
She was killed in Syria.
Today, journalists are mourning the deaths of two of their own.Marie Colvin of London’sSunday Times and French journalist Remi Olchik were killed Wednesday in thebesieged Syrian city of Homs.
|Remi Olchlik was also killed in Homs.|
|Chandrika Rai and his family were
bludgeoned to death in India.
So are journalists of lesser name who put their lives on the lineevery day reporting from their own countries.
|Thomas Oliver and Melissa Turner
were part of the record-setting crowd.
I just read that the Tybee Island polar bear plunge on New Year’s Day officially broke a Guinness World Record.
But who cannot love opening presents on a cold morning in front of a fire? Especially when the gifts include a pair of tomato red woolen gloves that come complete with special forefinger and thumb fabric that allows for — what else — easy maneuvering of the iPhone.
I don’t have to take my gloves off to use my keyboard anymore. Joy!
Yes, my husband got me these gloves and yes, I love them.
Perhaps because I go to work in the darkness of the early morning — at 6 a.m. to be precise — and they come in most handy not just for checking email on my phone but also maneuvering the controls in my Mini.
Now I’ve got the whole world in my hands.
|I went with Georgia soldiers on a tour of the ruins at Ur, near Tallil Air Base in early 2006.|
|Spc. Jason Smith and me at Tallil.|
|Photos of Georgia’s fallen at a memorial at Tallil.|
The last hot meal served there was on Thanksgiving Day. I rememberhow I hated walking down to the chow hall to eat. It was such a hike in windand chill. So long and lonely that I often skipped dinner. Ate Ramen noodles inmy trailer instead.
|I took to this Iraqi girl at a health center near Nasiriyah. She
was one of many Iraqis I remembered as the U.S. war
formally came to an end Thursday.
|Phoolpishi and Pishemashai on their 50th anniversary.|
“Of us eight brothers and sisters,” she said in Bengali,“only four are still standing.”
|A young Phoolpishi in Kolkata.|
My eldest aunt died in the 1980s. Then, several yearslater, one of my father’s younger brothers died, quite suddenly. My fathersuffered from Alzeheimer’s for many years and was finally relieved of his agonyin 2001.
|She insisted on wheeling herself into the kitchen
to make payesh for me.
This last time, she insisted she make payesh for me. It’sa traditional dessert eaten on birthdays. My birthday was two weeks away stillbut Phoolpishi was adamant.
|Phoolpishi holding me in
It was tough to leave California at the end of September.I knew then I would probably not see her well again. I knew I would probablylose another close connection to home; someone who strengthened my own roots;someone who had known me since I was born.
|With Saraf and Pishemashai in 2005.|
How she easily dozed off in a car as soon as it startedmoving – a trait shared by my father. How she loved to play bridge, as did myfather. How she shared with him another passion – Bengali mishtis or sweets.When Phoolpishi visited us in the 1980s in Florida, she and my father spenthours in the kitchen making sandesh and bhapa dahi.
|I visited her in September in California.|
I am feeling all those things today. She was the only oneof my father’s generation who was in the United States. And yet, I saw her morewhen we both visited India together.
|Fun in an English class with some of the 10th graders at Udaan.|
In Hindi, udaan means flight. Like a bird flying off. Free to explore the world.
In my hometown of Kolkata, the Udaan Society is trying to help underpriveleged youth find that freedom through knowledge.
My childhood friend Vijay recently started a new weekend program at Udaan for students of all ages.
In a donated flat in Kolkata’s Alipur neighborhood, boys and girls and young men and women who live lives under India’s crushing poverty, find solace from the misery of their own homes within brightly lit rooms.
They are served lunch and encouraged to paint, dance, sing — activities they might not otherwise engage in their gloomy homes. Many don’t have both parents. Or their fathers are drug addicts. They come from uneducated families who are unable to teach them the importance of school.
The idea is to take them away from their environments to help provide a boost in their education. Teachers volunteer their time to help the students with math, English, business education.
|With Saddam Hussein. I teased him about his name.|
Vijay asked me to teach a few English classes there this time. Some were 5th and 6th graders. Others were high school students. All were eager to learn English, a vital language for good jobs in India.
I had found it extremely rewarding to teach last spring at the University of Georgia. Teaching at Udaan was something else.
I am posting a few photographs of some of the older students.
One told me he wanted to be an astronaut; another, an engineer.
|The idea is to get the kids away from gloomy home environments.|
I wish you well. And if any of you are reading this, remember always that you only get one chance in life to go to school in India. Please stick with it. So you, too, can take flight.
Fly away from that which you cannot control. Fly away from empty bellies and sickness. Fly way from the pain of poverty.
But most of all, never stop dreaming.