On July 3, a young Syrian finished work and was on his way home. Two days later, he was found dead, his throat slit in his bed. Brahim Kashush, who was active in anti-Assad protests, became popular in gatherings by singing loudly in a megaphone that the dictator at Damascus needed to "take off" and "get lost". He was a normal citizen using civil disobedience as a means towards achieving reform in the country he loved – and he died for it.
Syrian protestors have quickly elevated Kashush to martyr status as the latest symbol of the backlash against Assad. Although the perpetrator will likely never be brought to justice, it is widely assumed he was killed by security forces loyal to the regime.
This new incident is but a tiny drop of the blood that dirties Bashar Assad's hands. Indeed, it seems each time Assad offers a new concession to reformers, it is coupled with some sort of new crackdown resulting in innocent people being killed by pro-government thugs.
America's response to the Syrian people's clamouring for changing has so far been rather mute. With countries like Eygpt, Tunisia and especially Libya top of mind, the American approach has been to gently admonish the Assad regime while being careful not to offend it too much. In fact, that's been the U.S. strategy for years, long before the so-called "Arab Spring" got underway.
It's a strategy that has failed for years, yet no one is pushing for alternatives to the status quo. Bashar Assad and his late father have ruled Syria unchallenged for more than 40 years. Their Baath Party is constitutionally designed as "the leading party of society and state," meaning no other party can hold power. Assad's regime is, along with Iran, the funder and enabler of Hamas and the prime supporter of Hezbollah in Lebanon, a country it occupied until 2006.
Some sort of outside intervention by America and its allies is now looking more likely, but the future of the Syrian freedom movement now rests almost entirely on the situation in Libya. The Syrian situation is now starting to look like a repeat performance of the Libyan one. If the Libyan mission fails to oust Gaddafi, Syrians will be left to their own devices. But if NATO succeeds, the political will might be there to help liberate the Syrian people as well.
On Monday, it was reported that hundreds of Assad supporters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, smashing windows and spray-painting walls with obscenities and graffiti that called the American ambassador a "dog." The French embassy was also attacked, leading Secretary of State Clinton to claim Assad had "lost legitimacy."
That's it? Now is the time for bolder action and more concrete support for dissidents. America now has an excuse to do so given the attack on the embassy. The situation is worsening all the time; nowhere is safe. Even the Internet, the main communication device of Syrian protestors, is being attacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, a special government unit which posts pro-Assad comments on websites, works with Syrian diplomats to blackmail Syrian-born foreigners, hacks into email accounts and tattle-tales on the activities of dissenters.
It is estimated that security forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians and arrested at least 12,000 since protests began in mid-March.
NATO must succeed in Libya. If they do, the Syrian people will call for external assistance like the Libyans did, thus making any potential outside intervention much easier.
The next few weeks will be critical in showing that the Libyan operation is working – particularly for the Syrian people. The National Transitional Council must continue to gain legitimacy worldwide to boost confidence in the operation. If it does, the prospects for more assertive action in Syria will increase.
Assad will never change. He will continue his hypocritical game of appearing open to change in public while swiftly and violently silencing any opponents that get in his way. How many more Brahim Kashush's must die before we act?