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Opinion: Bashar Al-Assad's Linguistic Gymnastics - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear the edicts, ideas and vision of the civilized doctor, eminent linguist and Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad.

Let us take a look at what this genius said this week. Assad gave a long speech to religious scholars, the transcript of which was published on the CNN Arabic website. Among the many assertions Assad made during this speech was his claim that there were “tens of thousands of Syrian terrorists” in the country, the term his government uses to indicate opposition fighters. Assad claimed that these “terrorists” were being relying on a broad-ranging “social base of support,” to use his terminology. Assad then went on to estimate this opposition to his regime as including “millions of Syrians.”

This is all well known, though Assad’s acknowledgement of this might be new. On the other hand, had he denied this reality it would have opened him to ridicule. Nobody, not even the man himself, can be so completely deafened by the noise of the barrel bombs being deployed by his regime.

Let us leave this aside and turn to Assad’s jurisprudential vision. He accused some parties in Syria of “simplifying their understanding of the Qur’an.” Sheikh Assad warned of the misuse of Islam through the manipulation of Islamic terminology. “When we lose our faith, we lose our culture, and with it our morality,” he said. Touching words, considering the source.

Assad went on to perform some linguistic gymnastics that would have rivaled the discourse of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi: “Terms change according to the interests of the West, and unfortunately we have to adopt them as they are. Let us take, for instance, the term ‘Islamists.’ What does it mean?”

He continued: “Now there is another term, Islamawi [false Islamist], which is a term that has no basis in Arabic grammar. In fact, this word is nothing more than a combination of the term Islami [Islamist] and Damawi [bloody].” Can you believe this?

Assad talked about his love for Islam and his fervor for Arab nationalism, claiming he is more protective of religious holy places than even Saudi Arabia, home of the Two Holy Mosques. Turning his focus to Saudi Arabia, he claimed that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the fall of late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. He completely ignored the fact that it was the Ba’athists, or to be more specific his father, Hafez Al-Assad, who was responsible for the failure of the United Arab Republic project. Indeed, Nasser said as much himself.

Assad also claims that it was the Syrians who built the Umayyad Dynasty, even quoting forward a hadith of the project which urges “obedience to the emir.” This hadith is a cornerstone of Sunni Islam.

Assad, who it appears is moonlighting as a history professor, then accused Saudi Arabia, not Iran, of inciting sectarian conflict in the region, describing the Iranian revolution as an “Islamic revolution in the full meaning of the word, not a Shi’ite revolution.”

Dr. Assad, please stick to your barrel bombs and organizing your militias and leave discussions of history and jurisprudence alone.