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Opinion: The scars of dictatorship are not just physical | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A man with blood stained hand reacts at a damaged site after what activists said was heavy shelling by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, in Masaken Hanano neighbourhood in Aleppo December 22, 2013 (REUTERS/Hosam Katan).

I dislike reading history, but reading it is a necessary evil.

I dislike it because it reminds me of the present rather than of the past. When you read how many times violence, horror and injustice have been repeated, you might begin to feel that the whole world around you is just a stage for torture, one where we see repeated displays of the same crimes.

A criminal gets away with his crime, but the victim carries the scars. Nothing changes in this world: Sheep always search for a leader to take them to the pasture.

Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig says: “History has no time to be fair. Just as cold as all historians, history only counts successes; it recognizes only the victorious and puts losers aside. History does not feel any embarrassment at burying unknown soldiers in the realm of the forgotten, without an epitaph to glorify their sacrifices.”

In his book The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin (translated by Faris Ywakin, Dar al-Furat), Zweig says that human injustice changes the meanings of words—words like “victory” and “defeat.”

Zweig describes a dictator as one with a face reminiscent of a limestone mountain: “A rocky, barren, deserted land with no people on it. A dictator is one with a hard, ugly, rude, round, odd face.”

He continues: “That blind fanatic has detached himself from reconciliation. He is unaware of settlement, but knows only his own way: either to get the whole thing or nothing at all, either to have full authority or no control whatsoever. He never accepts a compromise. He cannot understand or imagine that there could be someone who rivals him or enjoys the same rights as he does. For him, he is the only one who knows, and others should learn from him. Such a megalomaniac would always feel furious and mad if anyone dared to voice an opinion that conflicted with his.”

Such a character does not exist only in power and politics; he is a pathological phenomenon who can exist in all fields: commerce, journalism, or even in charitable organizations. Once a megalomaniac is promoted, he soon gets enchanted with the devil of oneness. He lives in seclusion, shutting all doors around him. When he becomes lonely, he does not realize that he is speaking to his inner self or that he suffers from inner fancies that exist only deep inside him.

A dictator is devoted only to himself, and he puts a mirror on the wall in front of him, a mirror that reflects only his own face. He will leave office only after he has caused great harm, destruction and sabotage. Look at the new ruler who will succeed him: an unfortunate individual who has to shoulder the heavy burden of restoring logic and justice to the country left in tatters. That successor will also have to revive the virtues of humility, understanding, and the tolerance of differing ideas and opinions in the sphere of public life.

In fact, the casualties of dictatorship are not exclusively material; the psychological losses are often profounder. A material loss can be forgotten after a while, but what can never be forgotten is the dictator’s assault on human dignity, and his disdain, shown by behaving like the meanest of people.