The Syrian Mousetrap


The current cast of the longest-running play in the world is ready for its changeover – and that doesn’t just refer to hegemonic power-shifts in theatres of war. The Mousetrap, showing in the West End of London and currently starring Georgina Sutcliffe was written by that old Syria resident, Agatha Christie. The cast of the play which celebrates its diamond jubilee along with the British Queen, this year, changes every ten months. When the present cast started, Syria became the first country ever to be saved by a third double veto cast by Russia and China at the UN Security Council.

Christie and her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan once stayed at the chimerical Baron Hotel near the old Orient Express terminus in Syria’s second city of Aleppo. From the balcony of the Baron’s room 215, the sham independence of Syria, itself, was declared by the colonial puppet King Faisal I of Iraq. I’m not sure, though, that Christie’s room on the second floor even has the original art deco furniture I saw when I visited, eighteen months ago. Who knows what priceless artefacts have been ransacked in Aleppo…Palmyra…the Dead Cities? Aleppo’s Baron Hotel, where spies drank under the Ottomans and which hosted Lawrence of Arabia, Charles de Gaulle, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and, of course, Syria’s former president, Hafez Al Assad is now rocked by the sounds of a lethal proxy war that may have already taken the lives of up to 20,000 people. NATO powers have shown themselves every bit as eager to prolong the conflict as they did in Yugoslavia or Palestine. At the UN Security Council, U.S., French and UK leaders would not even countenance peace talks between the warring parties as suggested by China and Russia.

Secular Syria, in the heart of the Middle East, is being slandered on mainstream news every day by a propaganda campaign all too easily coordinated by intelligence agents mandated by President Obama. The incompetence that led to Obama’s ‘secret’ intelligence authorization being leaked to the international media will not deter incompetent war reporters from singing the neoliberal party line on 24 hour television news channels. One wouldn’t put it past U.S. or UK networks for news bulletins to carry celebrations of rebels wearing actual “Al Qaeda” logos on their bandanas. It seems as if Washington desires to destroy Syria at whatever cost, in human life, regional chaos or 9/11 blowback. White House spokesperson Tommy Vietor merely declined to comment on reports of clandestine U.S. organisational support for the ‘secret’ base on Syria’s northern border established by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Will U.S.-taxpayers even be told their dollars are going into the hands of ‘Al Qaeda’? Will the U.S. Southern Bible Belt be told that a French Catholic Bishop on the ground is reporting tens of thousands of Christians driven out of Homs by de facto NATO policy?

Agatha Christie took the name “The Mousetrap” from the drama-within-a-drama in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The Prince wants to gauge the reaction of King Claudius to a play about a regicide and, sure enough, when Claudius leaves the room, Hamlet knows who killed his father. Neither Beijing, Moscow or Damascus needs such a tool to detect responsibility for the mass killing that continues to destabilise the region. Yet, every day, the play is repeated: in the form of televised reactions from politicians in DC, Paris, London and Brussels. There will be no international help for rebels fighting brutal dictators in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain –instead arms exports, Jubilee lunches with the British Queen and even a Grand Prix. Meanwhile, for Syria, there is propaganda masked as journalism in the service of Islamist rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad. As recounted in Counterpunch, Zionists in Tel Aviv name-check the Islamists to visiting Russian leaders as if they were just another branch of the Israeli army.

Some dramatic criticism such as that by Margaret Litvin at Yale has noted that post-1975 Arabic performances of Hamlet put Claudius at the centre, inherently arguing Claudius’ irresistible Leviathan power. The effect was to transform Hamlet into a demonstration of the futility of political action in the Arab world, a pessimism of the will. Ironically, in The Mousetrap, Georgina Sutcliffe’s Mollie Ralston, muses “perhaps you can’t trust anybody – perhaps everyone is a stranger.” And that line finds echoes amidst the tragic ranks of those Syrian dissidents desperate for reform but who are steadily realising that the uprising against President Assad has taken a darker form, one that is now, surely, not able to be rescued under current conditions. You can’t trust anybody.

Maybe one shouldn’t be surprised. Syria since the post-Bashar rapprochement of the West seemed a jelly-like place where the rich and liberal elites educated their children abroad only to return and seek havoc with the best intentions. In off-the-record conversations in Damascus with senior politicians, one got the impression they weren’t aware that liberal economic reform was a Trojan horse. Those educated abroad were coming back thinking that privatisation was a universal panacea which Bashar al-Assad was holding back. Well, now they know what the real agenda is and that everyone is a stranger. The Western economic crisis is lesson enough as to what economic liberalisation would have done to Syria. Gadaffi made that mistake and look what happened to him. The Syrian leadership had more sense of history in curbing neoliberal economic programs but then they felt in their bones that their cities were once the wonders of the world.

Only comprehensive peace talks involving all regional players will begin to undo what has been done. NATO attempts at sectarianizing Syria as it did in Iraq – the mainstream media parrot the line that the country is run by Alawites – is particularly scurrilous in a land which has taken more refugees per capita than any other. This is fertile ground to plant the seeds of colonial ‘divide and rule,’ but so far the worst NATO-backed atrocities seem to be being committed by foreign insurgents. Nevertheless, Beijing and Moscow must act now. Otherwise, if Assad stays on or in the unlikely event he falls, unfolding events in Syria will be a mousetrap for hegemonic powers that spell misery for the Middle East and beyond, most strikingly those in American skyscrapers.

AFSHIN RATTANSI runs Alternate Reality Productions Ltd. One of its commissions is Double Standards, a political satire show for Press TV, broadcast every Saturday at 2230 GMT. Shows can be accessed via www.doublestandardstv.com. He can be reached viaafshinrattansi@hotmail.com

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