You wouldn't think, judging by the horrific news coming out of Syria, that President Bashar al-Assad would have many defenders. But there are some. Many are Syrians who are close to his regime. Others are foreign well-wishers who have their own reasons for lending him their support. And some are even comparing the embattled Syrian president to Abraham Lincoln. Seriously.
One of the most interesting arguments that I've heard so far comes from the the president of the Institute for the Middle East in Moscow, a man with the evocative name of Yevgeny Satanovsky. In his article, Satanovsky assails the West for its alleged hypocrisy in condemning Assad:
Abraham Lincoln was lucky to have lived when he did. Surely he would have appeared a vicious tyrant had Twitter, Facebook, Al Jazeera, NATO and the UN existed when he encouraged the efforts of Union forces to suppress Confederate separatists. But Lincoln is an American national hero, a bastion of democracy and a martyr. It is quite possible that in the future these very same words will be used, at least in the Arab world, to describe Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is now widely reviled by the international community. History is full of surprises.
In other words, according to Satanovsky, Assad is getting a bum rap. When Abraham Lincoln launched his effort to prevent the southern states of the Confederacy from seceding from the Union, he was just doing what the Syrian president is doing today: preventing rebels from tearing his country apart.
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Satanovsky isn't the only one to have drawn this comparison. The notion of Assad as a misunderstood patriot, fighting to preserve his nation's territorial integrity -- just as Lincoln did in his day -- can be encountered in all sorts of places around the Internet. "This war is just like the American civil war and Assad is just like Abraham Lincoln," writes one commenter in response to an article on Syria published on the website of the Arabic-language broadcaster Al-Arabiya. "The Shabiha [the pro-Assad militia] could be compared to Sherman's march to the Atlantic."
In some ways the analogy is a bit ironic, since Assad himself persists in denying that anything like a civil war is taking place in his country. Officially he insists that the whole crisis is the result of intervention by various foreign powers that have stirred up "terrorists" against the Syrian people. (I doubt that he believes this in private, though I can't really say.)
Still, it's interesting that people feel inclined to make the comparison. Is there anything to it? Ask most Americans, and they'll instinctively reject it -- though usually without being able to explain why. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet.