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About A Boy: How Syria's 13-Year-Old Martyr Will Haunt The Cruel Regime That Murdered Him

Essay: Hamzah al-Khatib, the 13-year-old boy who was tortured and killed by Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, has become a potent symbol of the revolution. Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun meditation on how the victim's soul holds the power to bring dow

People carrying the photo of Hamzah al-Khatib during a solidarity march with the Syrian people in Montreal.
People carrying the photo of Hamzah al-Khatib during a solidarity march with the Syrian people in Montreal.
Tahar Ben Jelloun

Light is what makes a man, Victor Hugo once said. Hamzah al-Khatib was just a 13-year-old boy. He died taking with him that part of light which springs from courage and dignity. As Abou Dib, a journalist for the Lebanese daily L'Orient-Le Jour wrote on June 2, "For Syria, Hamzah was not tortured. He was just slightly killed."

Hamzah was arrested on April 29 in Deraa for having sung "down with the regime!" He was tortured. His tormentors applied electric shocks, burned his feet, elbows and knees, cut his penis and lacerated his face. And when they'd finsihed, they fired three bullets into his body - one right in the chest. His body was returned to his family on May 31. At the same time, Hamzah's father was arrested and forced to publicly accuse Salafists of having martyred his son.

The boy's body was purple with decay, but traces of torture were still visible. The people who did this are rats. They're not even wolves, just scavenging, hallucinating rats. Their nights will be haunted by the ghosts of children, as light as moths bumping against a lighted window. I am sure that they sleep well and dream. Criminal brutality preserves and opens perspectives for new sessions of torture and death. The people who did this were raised in the nauseating environment of the Baath party, and the totalitarian ideology of the regime.

The baby face of this child is everywhere in the press, and videos of his cut-up body are circulating on the Web. Four other children suffered similar torture. I don't know what age Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's children are. It seems that he has sent them abroad. He is right to want to protect them. He doesn't have time for them anyway. But none of this matters all that much, in truth. That his secret services would torture a child to death says much about Al-Assad's humanity, about his vision of the world and of power. I hope that one day his children will remember young Hamzah.

The Syrian regime does not know how to respond to peaceful demonstrations other than with force and a vicious form of barbarism. There have been more than 1,200 deaths since the protests began. Discredited and illegitimate, the regime in Damascus will one day be judged for its crimes against humanity. In the meantime, it is spreading terror. But what is extraordinary is the magnificent courage of the Syrian people, who take to the streets several times a week knowing that they will be greeted with bursts of machine-gun fire.

For a long time people were made to believe that this country was full of nothing but informers and snitches. For a long time, people evoked the Years of Lead marked by violence, when the least suspicion of opposition was permanently reduced to silence. And so the Arab Spring made us discover a courageous people, a responsible people.

Lebanon knows this regime better than anyone else. It knows what the regime in Damascus is capable of. Since the Syrian troops were forced to leave Lebanon in 2005, Lebanon lives under the constant threat of attacks. In the meanwhile, the secretary general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini (the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution) in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, while declaring his support to the regime in Damascus. He calls Al-Assad's government "the victim of an Israeli-American partition plan."

So Hamzah was a spy in the service of a conspiracy! He was a wise guy who jeopardized the security of the State. A kid who threatened the regime! And his friends too. The Syrians calling for the departure of Bashar Al-Assad are simply following the instructions of America and Israel. Twenty-two million Syrians are all a bunch of conspirators and traitors of their country. It is true that the present regime has operated for the last 42 years with a highly effective and cruel intelligence service. This is a police state, and it will soon collapse. The result will undoubtedly be better than this regime inherited from father to son, a regime that made several thousand victims in Hama in 1982. And now the revolution is having difficulty getting rid of this poisonous weed.

I was in Beirut last week for the sixth anniversary of the assassination of the Syrian writer and journalist Samir Kassir. He used to write truths that Damascus didn't like. His death did nothing to erase his ideas, his humanism or his passion for his country.

Lebanon is living under tension. Caught between Syria and Israel, it is holding on. Military security is everywhere. But life goes on with optimism, with vigilance. The people who have lived through several wars are constantly waiting for a Syrian provocation to distract the attention of the press (foreign journalists are forbidden in Syria). Muezzins continue to call the people to prayer. Church bells are ringing, and roads are blocked by traffic jams everywhere. At night on Gemmayze Street, the many restaurants, bars and nightclubs are never empty. This is Lebanon that has tamed death with humor and intelligence.

Hamzah will never go to school again. He won't write hostile slogans against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. He will no longer sing. Some already compare him to Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian who set himself on fire on Dec. 17, 2010. Hamzah, Mohamed, and hundreds of other anonymous victims died so that that the Arab Spring – with its winds, its storms and its grandeur – can carry on.

The soul of Hamzah, frail and light, hovers over the protesters. People say it will go to heaven. Hell is on Earth, in so many Arab countries whose leaders are clinging to power with such pathetic pathology.

Read the original article in French.

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