UK newspapers are suddenly publishing articles calling for the British-born Syrian First Lady to be punished for her marriage to Syria’s President and her contradictions of the Western narratives on the Syrian crisis.
The manner in which most of the newspapers appear to have covered this story presents an incredibly one-sided picture, some even asking whether Asma al-Assad should be considered a ‘War Criminal’.
Some of this is almost comically misguided in terms of the language used; but there is a more serious, worrying aspect to this story, which I will come to at the end.
Essentially, this is simply another element in the continuing propaganda jigsaw of Syrian regime-change. The Syrian president is already widely denounced as a butcher and tyrant, so it makes sense to also denounce everyone around him and to try to resolve the slightly awkward issue of his British-born wife and her failure to renounce her husband.
But I would respect the idea more if they simply suggested Mrs Assad should have her citizenship revoked on account of being an Enemy Agent or an ‘enemy collaborator’ or something like that: instead of trying to couch the idea in more of the same regime-change propaganda, unproven claims and woefully one-sided portrayal of the War in Syria.
Calling her a ‘war criminal’ is surely excessive? Even if her husband has committed war crimes, does that automatically render the wife a war criminal too?
Typifying this woefully simplistic, child-like narrative, Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi wrote a few days ago, ‘Asma al-Assad is a cheerleader for evil. Her UK citizenship should be revoked’.
It continues, ‘As one of her husband’s chief cheerleaders in his murderous campaign of oppression, Asma al-Assad is no longer worthy of British citizenship. Not when she has used her platform on social media to defend her husband, deny his use of chemical weapons and attack the West…’
All of this is framed, of course, as if Bashar Assad is absolutely, categorically responsible for the Idlib chemical attack – a narrative that has already been widely undermined. At any rate, there hasn’t been any independent investigation of the Idlib attack yet – but the newspapers don’t mention that when they cite Asma al-Assad ‘denial’ of the chemical attack.
Asma al-Assad, we should note, hasn’t actually committed a crime, so far as we know. And there is no argument being made that she is any kind of threat to British citizens or British society. What’s also highly significant is that Asma al-Assad is British by birth – she was born in London, not a foreign national who was granted British citizenship.
Aside from this issue of Asma al-Assad, we should also be more broadly concerned about the ability of a government official or office having the power to arbitrarily strip someone of their citizenship.
Particularly as we have a government that just passed the highly criticized Investigatory Powers Bill and a Prime Minister who has previously authorized the arrest and detainment of journalists under the ‘Terrorism Act’.
Barrister and immigration law specialist, Colin Yeo, has assessed this subject on his website.
The legislation by which someone like Asma al-Assad could be stripped of citizenship is very broad, giving the Home Secretary absolute power to remove citizenship from someone if it is deemed to be ‘conducive to the public good’. As Mr Yeo points out, the criteria for this has lessened substantially since 2006 and it is now much easier for it to be done.
He describes the notion of using this legislation against Asma al-Assad as ‘a dangerous path down which to go. All previous public good deprivation cases seem to have involved personal involvement in very serious crimes or terrorism. There is no suggestion that Mrs al-Assad has any such involvement, only that she has voiced her support for the Syrian government and its actions.’
He continues, ‘Expressions of political opinion or political loyalty should not be sufficient for citizenship to be taken away… She is British by birth, not by later naturalisation or registration.’ He adds, ‘Her children should also be British citizens by virtue of section 2(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981.’
I also wonder, however, if this call to revoke Asma al-Assad’s citizenship may signal something to come in regard to Western intervention in Syria.
And this, as I hinted at earlier, is where this whole matter could get a lot darker than just silly propaganda in newspapers.
Although, so long as Russian support for the Syrian government continues, it probably won’t happen, I’ve been wondering what would happen if regime-change in Syria went ahead. Forgive me for being a little grim here, but, assuming that President Assad and the regime would never surrender, a forced regime-change via military action could go the Libya way, with Assad himself and other regime figures being rounded up or executed by Western-backed rebel opposition forces, or it could go the Iraq way, with a more orderly removal of the state, ending with Bashar Assad and others undergoing trials and, like Saddam Hussein, being put to death for their alleged crimes.
Were that to ever be the outcome, the revoking of Asma al-Assad’s British citizenship would leave her in an extraordinarily vulnerable situation.
I’m only speculating, but I imagine that, after the fall of Damascus, the British government would not want Asma al-Assad coming back to the UK and potentially giving interviews, writing a book, or generally saying anything about what has gone on in Syria since 2011. They would not want her to be a sympathetic figure or to help humanise the Syrian presidency to Western audiences.
And I tend to wonder if this talk of her British citizenship now might be a signal of very bad things to come.
The actor – and pretend Foreign Secretary – Boris Johnson said something worrying in parliament on Tuesday. Briefing MPs on the situations in Syria and North Korea, he was asked what would happen if the American administration went to war in Syria – specifically, whether British parliament would take the same position as it did in 2013 and vote against involvement in regime-change.
Johnson’s answer wasn’t very encouraging. Essentially, if President Trump was to declare a military intervention to oust Assad tomorrow and he asked for British involvement, according to Boris Johnson’s statement, “it would be very difficult for the United Kingdom to say no.”
There’s also the issue of parliament. Ed Miliband isn’t there anymore to vote against intervention like he did in 2013.
Bear in mind also that Theresa May’s sudden, ‘snap election’ on June 8th could – if pundits are to be believed – see a decimation of the Labour Party across the country and May’s party completely dominate both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This would re-shape parliament drastically, meaning that there might not be anything like the numbers of opposition ministers necessary to oppose a Syrian intervention.
Someone already suggested to me on Tuesday that a planned or foreseen action in Syria might be Theresa May’s motive for calling this surprise election – specifically so her government can avoid the problem that Cameron’s government had in 2013 when he was thwarted on military action against Assad’s government.
While I personally don’t think this would be the sole reason for her calling an election on June 8th, I do think it may be a factor in her decision.