In February 2011 I was part of the last UK parliamentary group to enter Syria, as the Arab spring began to spread through the region. When we returned home, we wrote a report for the then foreign secretary William Hague warning that the country could implode. It seemed likely that the Syrian people could soon join those in neighbouring countries and rise up against their government too.
We came to these conclusions not because of meetings with senior regime officials, but because of the couple of hours we were able to spend with young Syrians learning English at the British Council. After the government minder had his say, I treated the session as a focus group, and the young Syrians soon began to open up and speak out. The language they used, the frustrations they had and the dreams they held dear were the same we had seen bring revolution in Tahrir Square just a few weeks before.
The idea that the Syrian people yearning for freedom from a terrible dictator whose Alawite dynasty had oppressed the Sunni majority for decades are “terrorists” is a gross misrepresentation of the origins of the current conflict. The label has been used from the start by Assad’s government to justify brutally oppressing demonstrations against his government and demands for democratic change. Assad was murdering his people, and calling them terrorists, long before Isis or Jabhat al-Nusra had any role in the Syrian civil war.
The Assad regime has a seemingly infinite capacity for evil, and an inability to be touched by compassion. At the very best he is dangerously deluded about what is happening, and the atrocities he has ordered. But most likely he is a monster. Half the population of his country have been driven from their homes, more than 400,000 have now died and Assad is believed to be responsible for up to 95% of the casualties.
His regime has rightly been criticised across the world, except by his backers in Russia and Iran, and sanctions against him and his cronies include a ban on their entry to European nations. There is one exception to this however: Assad’s wife Asma is still able to come to Britain because she retains her British citizenship.
British citizenship is an honour to hold, and should be highly prized. I know personally how precious citizenship of our great country is, as someone who was not British by birth. 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, while portraying life in the war-ravaged country as blissfully normal .
Syria is in its current state precisely because, six years ago, her husband refused to bow to the will of his people and give them the simple freedoms they requested. Hundreds of thousands have now died to protect the privileged position of Asma al-Assad and her husband. Thousands of children have died from bombs, bullets and sarin on the orders of the man she defends, while busying herself sharing propaganda photos with smiling children in schools.
Removing Mrs Assad’s citizenship is not illegal, because she is also a citizen of Syria. The home secretary has the power to do so when she believes it would be “conducive to the public good”. Asma al-Assad should never be welcome in our country again.