Immaturity as an Origin of Evil: Bashar al-Assad as a Case Study

Monday, 07 November 2011 00:57 GFP Columnist - Dr. Haytham Khoury
In my answer to the National Initiative for Change in Syria, which was based on the premise that Bashar would resign shortly after the start of the demonstrations, I explained to the signatories that Bashar would not resign easily and the war with the regime will take many months.

I based my judgement on my personal assessment of the real situation in Syria and also on my personal knowledge of Bashar’s personality, which is mainly characterized by his immaturity.  The question that many may ask is “how psychological immaturity can lead a person to lose his or her own conscience, committing crimes and consequently destroying himself and many people around him?”.

One important characteristic of mature people is that they can understand and deal with complex social realities. These complexities arise mainly from the deepness of human psyche and the complexity of human relationships. Thus, mature people can understand and fulfill their own real needs, which are necessary for them to grow and flourish, and other people’s real needs, which are important for these people to fulfill their own potentials. Also, mature people have good understanding for the laws that govern human relationships and interactions, thus they lead life events to the best outcome for the people around them and for themselves.

Consequently, they learn how to be decisive and acquire the sense of empowerment. Indeed, as human beings we develop these faculties in the laboratory of life starting from early days of our lives. If for any reason we do not live an active life characterized by rich experiences that we can learn from, we can’t acquire these potentials. Further, all these capacities define, indeed, our conscience. Thus, they make us able to recognize benevolent from malevolent acts or, in other words, distinguish good from evil. Therefore, mature people are characterized by developed conscience, while immature people lack this precious faculty.

I knew Bashar when I was at the medical school. At that time, Bashar appeared nice and modest. Further, he looked happy or rather he had the habit of joking all the time. This character provided people around him a sense of comfort. That was because they did not have to be formal, although they were in the presence of the president’s son. On the other hand, when I now look back at his behaviour with an inquiring mind, I can see the early signs of his immaturity. Indeed, his relationships with people were superficial; he had a lot of people around him, but none of them was real friend. However, he needed real relationships in order to learn about his own self and about human beings around him or, in other word, to mature and grow psychologically. Further, his jokes were some kind of superficial fun rather than interesting jokes that arise from actual situations or reflect wit and intelligence. In fact, Bashar was disconnected from the reality of his own self and the world around him; further, his nice and fun personality was a mere escapade from the real world.

I formulated my interpretation of Bashar’s personality from the ideas that I acquired about him through studying the course of his presidency and linking them to the old memories that I have of him. Since I recounted above these old memories, let me concentrate now on the course of his presidency. Bashar started his presidency with his famous first inaugural speech.  Indeed, in this speech, he promised a lot of reforms. However, ten years later he came to say that he was unable to carry out any of these reforms, because of hard circumstances. However, when we look deeply at these excuses, we find none of them is credible. Furthermore, we find that all the roots for his ailed governance started in the first five years of his presidency, during which he enjoyed full encouragement from the international community and support from the Syrian people. In fact, Bashar was not able to do these reforms, because he has an inherent handicap in his personality that arises from his indecisiveness and his pervasive sense of powerlessness.
Another early event in Bashar’s presidency was the Damascus Spring. When Bashar permitted the discussion forums to start, he did not understand the people’s need for freedom of expression and intellectual exchanges. He did not understand the effect of many decades of suppression of free speech. He did not understand that he and the people around him lacked the intellectual acumen that permits to them to keep up with the ideas that may originate from these forums. He thought that he was like an adult providing candies to small children; therefore, they should be happy and grateful. Thus, when these forums propagated like mushrooms and the regime’s “attack dogs” were not able to keep up with the ideas arising from these forums, Bashar closed the forums abruptly and even put some participants in prison. Thereupon, he did not only create disappointment among the Syrian intellectuals, but also pain and bitterness.
Another big mistake that Bashar did early in his presidency was mixing up the state business with the family business. The archetype of this conduct was offering the monopoly of the mobile phone business to his cousin (Rami Makhlouf), thus provoking the traditional Damascene business community by breaking the implicit agreement that Hafez al-Assad made with them. This agreement that implied that the traditional Damascene bourgeoisie would relinquish any power claim in exchange for security and freedom of doing business. All that resulted in putting Riad Saif and Maamoun al-Homsi in prison on false charges, consequently inciting pain and bitterness among the traditional Damascene business class.
Indeed, all the above-mentioned examples reflect Bashar’s inability to understand and deal with complex realities. However, I found that the most shocking example of his negative emotions and disconnection with the reality was his first speech after the uprising started. During this discourse, Bashar was smiling all the time, while people were dying in the street. This smile was an indication that Bashar has lost all form of conscience. Further, it reminded me his naïve immature smile when he was young and how it has transformed into a silly wicked smile when he got older, showing how immaturity lead into evil.
In fact, the above-mentioned  conduct demonstrate how complex situations, such as the presidency, could shatter the psychological underpinning of immature naïve people, apparently modest and nice, transforming them into ruthless rulers, committing atrocious crimes. Further, it makes us question the wisdom of the father, Hafez al-Assad, who, may be by wishing being eternal and despite the advices that were offered to him to do not do so, bequeathed his throne to his inapt son, Bashar, casting a curse upon him. 

Haytham Khoury is a physician and researcher, and works at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, ON, Canada. He is also a political writer with an interest in Syrian affairs. 

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