The defenseless

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IT IS with great sadness and foreboding that we watch the news from Syria. The civil war has already claimed over 44,000 lives, and even though it seems to be entering its final phases it looks set to consume many more. The latest developments are worrying, precisely because they show steady but incremental rebel advances; Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has already proven that he will not vacate the dictatorship his father created regardless of the consequences to his countrymen. The newest developments have only made him an even more wounded, more dangerous, tiger.

A two-star general, the commanding officer of the Syrian military police, defected to the opposition on Wednesday, becoming the highest-ranking of the hundreds of Army members to defect. Rebels made new territorial claims in other parts of the country. And most disturbing, from the government’s perspective: Russia, its most important ally and the main source of its arms and materiel, began making preparations for the possible evacuation of diplomatic personnel stationed in Damascus and other cities.

The mere fact that evacuations were being openly discussed in Russian newspapers reflected “Moscow’s deeply pessimistic prognosis for the region,” the New York Times reported a Russian analyst as saying. Even an ostensibly upbeat assessment, such as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s assertion last Saturday to the effect that the civil war “had reached stalemate and international efforts to persuade Assad to quit would fail,” in the words of the Reuters report, unintentionally revealed the true picture. That rebel forces had reached stalemate with the vastly more powerful, much better-prepared Syrian military spoke volumes.

Unless Assad has been persuaded to change his mind, however, he may be preparing to die in his boots—with unfortunate consequences for the Syrian people already struggling through 21 months of internal turmoil. As Benedict XVI noted in his traditional Christmas Day message, Syria was “deeply wounded and divided by a conflict that does not spare even the defenseless and reaps innocent victims.” The vast majority of the dead have been civilians.

The worst part is, the ongoing slaughter of the innocents in Syria seems headed for a genocide; the longer Assad clings to power, and the more brutal his retaliations against his own people become, then the higher the chances of the ruling class in Syria, the minority Alawites, falling victim to a paroxysm of mass-murdering revenge at the hands of the majority Sunnis. We do not know if the point of no return has already been reached, but if only to prevent a massacre of his own Alawite sect, Assad should leave on the next plane to Moscow.

The vulnerable

Protests of a different nature have rocked Delhi and many other cities in India, but at bottom they too are about the plight of the vulnerable. In India’s case: women, especially those who are the victims of violence and sexual abuse.

The horrifying case of a 23-year-old female student gang-raped for an excruciating hour on Dec. 16, on board a moving bus, by six men who took turns savaging her and assaulting her with an iron bar, has hogged headlines around the world and provoked general unrest in India. The gang-rape left the victim suffering major internal injuries; after three operations in Delhi, she was flown to Singapore, where she was described as being in “extremely critical” condition.

After days of widespread protests, came more troubling news: In a southern Indian province, a 20-year-old woman was gang-raped by a total of 10 men on Christmas Eve.

According to Agence France-Presse, gang rapes are in fact reported on a daily basis in India. And according to official statistics, out of a total of 256,329 crimes of violence recorded in 2011, a staggering 89 percent, or 228,650 crimes, were against women.

In Delhi alone, the number of rapes recorded in 2012 rose 17 percent to 661—or almost two every single day.

It is an unbearable sum, and the starkest proof of a continuing culture of abuse directed at women.

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