|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.