There are no surprises anymore for Syrians when it comes to denying the realities of their suffering and when it comes to the shamelessness of of those who accuse truth-tellers of being outright liars. This is especially the case when the shameless one is Bashar al Assad.
As Syrians would put it, “Lie, lie again, then lie some more—at some point there are people who will believe you.” And it’s unfortunately those gullible dupes who are the target audience of Assad’s latest flagrant falsehood. In an interview today with Swiss TV SRF1, the dictator claimed that the most infamous photograph to emerge from his many years of war crimes was nothing more than an airbrushed fake. You know the one I’m talking about: the shot of little Omran Daqneesh, sat in an ambulance shellshocked after being pulled from a pulverized building, covered in dust and blood, a photograph that almost every front page of every major international newspaper carried weeks ago as a symbol of Aleppo’s misery. This, Assad professes with a straight-face, was a “forgery.”
He claimed that the picture was used to describe two separate events and that the first-responder White Helmets who saved Omran were part of a conspiracy associated with the al-Qaeda affiliate formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front. Baseless allegations against the White Helmets—that they are terrorist accomplices or “agents of regime change”—are ever-present, from Syrian state media to far-left useful idiots, but few have had the gall to de-humanize the most recognized victim of the Syrian civil war. To recap the facts: Omran’s picture was taken after an airstrike on the residential neighborhood of rebel-held al-Katerji, Aleppo, on August 17 of this year. Six people were killed and 12 were wounded in that airstrike. The destruction, as eyewitnesses recounted and the sheer scale of damage caused broadcast to anyone with a working pair of eyes, was the result of a missile launched from a flying object in the sky. I am not the first to point out that only two air forces are carrying out raids on east Aleppo: neither belong to al-Qaeda or the Syrian opposition.
It really isn’t surprising that Assad has the temerity to mock these grim events as cynical inventions. His chemical weapons attack on the al-Ghouta district of Damascus in 2013 killed 1,400 civilians and forced the regime, through a U.S.-Russian-brokered deal, to hand over much (if not quite all) of its previously undeclared chemical weapons program. Three years later, however, top regime officials continue to deny their atrocity, blaming the anti-Assad opposition as the chemical culprit, which gassed themselves to gain global sympathy or prompt a military intervention on their behalf.
Perhaps the most perverse aspect to Assad’s latest lie is that his own wife has debunked it. Asma al-Assad, who on a number of occasions has been described as living on Mars owing to her comments which contradict the very laws of physics, told the Kremlin’s state propaganda channel Russia Today yesterday, by way of pleading for moral equivalence between the crimes of her husband and the human rights abuses of his enemies: “Why was the fate of the children in Zara not given the same media coverage as the tragedies of Aylan and Omran?” (Aylan refers to Aylan al-Kurdi, the subject of that other haunting photograph of a young refugee boy who washed up dead on the shore of Turkey two years ago.) If Asma concedes that Omran’s brush with death was a tragedy, then how can it have been a “forged” one?
In totalitarian regimes, mistakes happen all the time. Maybe Bashar’s wife wasn’t in on the real conspiracy on how to spin a symbol of Syrian suffering into a jihadist frame-up. But as for Assad, it scarcely matters. He’s escaped overthrow, received “unbelievably small” penalties for using sarin gas in his capital city, and is now set to outlast Barack Obama in power. After five years, his lies have got him this far. Why stop now?