One Cartoon Sums Up the Insanity of Syria's Crackdown

The unstoppable Ali Ferzat reminds us why the Assad regime hates him

AliFerzat jan13.jpg

On August 25, the 60-year-old Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat was driving home from his office in Damascus when a car with tinted windows blocked the road. Men dragged Ferzat from his car, stuffed him in a van, beat him severely and broke both his hands in what they called "a warning" and dumped him on the side of the road.

"Once my fingers have healed, I'll go back," Ferzat told an interviewer in December, after finally leaving the hospital.

Above is a particularly trenchant cartoon from Ferzat,* a stunning indictment of Syria's absurd and self-defeating crackdown. Egyptian blogger Bassem Sabry called it "one of the most amazing cartoons I have ever seen." The man in the blindfold has Ferzat's unmistakable beard, though the cartoonist is using himself as a stand-in for Syrians as a whole.

Syrian security forces have so far killed over 5,000 civilians, including hundreds of children, and have imprisoned, tortured, and often killed many outspoken critics such as Ferzat. Syrian troops are believed to be defecting with increasing rapidity, creating a nascent insurgent movement. As Ferzat's cartoon suggests, President Bashar al-Assad's decision to wage total war on his own people may in fact be dooming his regime, a process of self-destabilization that seems to be accelerating.

Ferzat has always been a bit of a dissident, but before 2011 he was often subtle about it, using symbols and stand-ins instead of recognizable faces and innuendo instead of outright criticism.

The Democracy Report"Fear dominated the people, including me," he later said. Around the start of the Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia in December and in Syria in April, Ferzat says he decided "to break the wall of fear." That decision -- and the Assad-lampooning cartoons it spawned -- were followed by his August beating.

If the regime's mission was to deter the cartoonist, then not only did it fail, but it failed in a way that showed just how right Ferzat has been all along.

You can view a sampling of Ferzat's cartoons here.

* -- This sentence originally called the cartoon his latest. However, a journalist in touch with Ferzat emailed to say that this may have in fact been drawn before his beating in August. As of last month, he was still waiting for his hands to heal before returning to work.

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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