It is just over a year since our Syrian people – men, women and children, young and old – burst into revolution against the world's most macabre regime. The fuse was lit by the arrest of 11-year old boys who had written on the wall of their run-down school in Dar'aa 'Down with the regime,' as they had seen the Tunisian and Egyptian people do in their televised revolutions. Mukhabarat men stormed the school – tipped off by their mole there – and took the children away. They beat them savagely and ripped out their tender nails. When their anguished fathers came to try to retrieve them, they were told by an Assad cousin in command there that the boys had been killed. He had happy news, though, he said: he would round up their mothers at once and his Allawite guards would rape them, to make them pregnant with far better sons!
Syrians had been humiliated, abused and mass murdered by the Assads for 42 years, but this proved a galvanising moment. They came out onto streets made ugly by this family mafia belonging to a sectarian hardcore of a tiny minority, armed with nothing but their dignity and natural desire for justice. They defied Russian-made bullets that Assad rained down on them; Iranian missiles; Hizballah snipers; as well as his own ruthlessly sectarian killing-machine, which murdered them in cold blood by the hundreds, then the thousands, then the tens of thousands. Their fields were burnt; their patient farm animals shot; their houses looted and shelled; their mosque minarets and church spires desecrated and destroyed. All basic services were cut off -- water, electricity, gas -- in outrageous communal punishment. Syrians found themselves besieged and starved in towns across their generous beautiful country. One image that is seared into my mind forever is this: two young men who sought to smuggle in a little baby formula and three tins of sardines to hungry Dar'aa, were shot in the head by Assad Shabbiha, who then photographed themselves on stolen iPhones, laughing and pointing at the blown-out brains splashed across their boots.
The psychopathic eye-doctor imposed by force on the Syrian people by the Stalinist junta of his father 12 years earlier, thought nothing of gouging out the eyes of protestors. National hospitals became torture centres, where doctors of his ilk drilled holes into people's flesh and chained them to beds so that security thugs could interrogate them with pokers and pliers. Girls as young as 9 were brought to prisons to be gang-raped, so as to better persuade their tied-up brothers or fathers – by the hundreds of thousands – not to rebel. Assadist torturers had nurses on standby to remove internal organs for sale on the black market. This was the nature of the beast -- a corrupt Assad police state, that had bled our country dry for 42 years, and conspired to make a dynamic, capable people impoverished, even as its own members became obscenely rich, with their fortunes sent abroad. Our own United Kingdom is peaceful home to Assad's war criminal uncle Rifa'at -- mastermind of the infamous Hama genocide of 1982, that wiped out 20,000 Syrians in a month, and disappeared 17,000 others.
For the better part of a year, we were told, and glibly, by Western democracies that Assad was a reformer -- perhaps because he wore suits and ties, and did not look scarily Arab like Saddam or Qadhafi. Turkey talked a lot but quickly caved in to his terrorist blackmail -- though it did take in floods of refugees, who ended up in snow-covered tents across the border, traumatised and destitute. Russia intensified arms sales to Assad. China stood by him. Israel preferred him in power, while Arab states did nothing meaningful to prise him out of it. And so we became the loneliest people on earth.
Though it is easy to be bitter at having been so utterly abandoned to Assad's slaughter by the international community, we the Syrian people have far better things to do than to hark on such a grave moral and political failure of will. We have a horrifying police state to dismantle -- alone. Millions around the world tune in on a daily basis to the Assad snuff movie of castrated children, disfigured women, destroyed neighbourhoods, and mass graves. Our eleven thousand dead, sixty thousand disappeared, two hundred thousand arrested, and many more made refugees both internally and externally, add up to one thing, and one thing alone:
Syria will be free. Syria will be free. Syria will be free!
Rana Kabbani was born in Damascus in 1958 to a political family of democrats on her mother's side, and artists and poets on her father's side. She was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. She is a writer and broadcaster, and a regular contributor to The Guardian and the BBC.