On November 28, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad granted a rare interview to The Full Paris Match.
The interview is full of deflections and rationalizations from a defiant Assad, who at one point compared his role as president to being a captain of a ship.
“The captain doesn’t think about death, or life, he thinks about saving his ship,” Assad said. “My goal has never been to remain President, neither before, during, or after the crisis.”
The interview is a series lines such as these. At one point, Assad claimed that his government had the almost complete support of the population and that nearly everyone who questioned his regime were terrorists — even when the uprising consisted mostly of peaceful protests.
In a closing question, The Paris Match asked Assad how he explained the situation in Syria to his children Hafez, Zein, and Karim, who are ages 13, 11, and 9, respectively. It’s a question with an undoubtedly interesting answer: Assad’s children have spent some of their most formative years in the middle of perhaps the most severe conflict on earth, one in which their father’s government has been responsible for chemical weapons attacks and relentless barrel-bombing of civilian targets.
That has to take a toll on a family, even at the basic level of children wondering at the meaning of the events going on around them — especially when they’re so violent and criminal in nature.
But Assad’s answer feels just as canned as the rest of the interview. He even tries to incorporate his children into his regime’s central talking points about the conflict.
“The most difficult thing in this discussion is when you deal with children whose social consciousness has developed during this crisis,” he explains, before immediately alluding to ISIS’s role in the war. “There are two basic questions asked, not only in our family but in many families. The first question: how can people who believe or say they are defending God and Islam kill and murder? This is a case which is not easy to explain, and children ask whether these people know that they are wrong.”
He helpfully offers his own answer to this dilemma: “There are those who know but make use of religion for private purposes, and there are ignorant people who do not know that religion is good. They think, instead, that religion means killing.”
There’s a second question his kids ask him, too, Assad says: “Why does the West launch an aggression against us, and why does it support terrorists and destruction? … Have we done anything to hurt them?” Assad explains to them that “people are something, and states are something else.”
Assad has generally stayed away from interviews since the start of the Syrian civil war. Before The Paris Match, Assad has not spoken to an outlet since a June 2014 interview with the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, a publication supportive of the pro-Syrian Lebanese militia group Hezbollah.
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