Video & transcript: Bruce Petty interviews Dr Jeremy Salt, Middle Eastern scholar. Bruce Petty is a highly regarded political satirist and cartoonist as well as an award-winning film maker.
"There always has to be a 'madman' in the Middle East," explains Jeremy Salt, when asked why we constantly hear that 'Bashar al-Assad has to go'? Of course Bashar al-Assad is not really mad. Jeremy explains how the west, in its long exploitation of the Middle East, has invented crises that it then pretends to help with, and these tend to feature a 'madman' whom the people have to be saved from. In reaction Middle Eastern governments tend to be defensive and authoritarian, in order to survive constant foreign interference. Even if Bashar went, the Syrian state would remain the same. Salt gives a fluent history of how the west has used the Middle East, and how western politicians expected to knock Syria over easily, but underestimated it. All they have done is weaken it and assorted armed and dangerous groups including ISIS have risen up through the cracks they have created. But many Syrians really like Bashar al-Assad and think he is their best chance for reform. (See the third part in this series, "Has the Syrian president killed more than ISIS and other questions," to hear about how al-Assad is actually legally elected and had brought in reforms prior to the current crisis.) Petty asks about beheading and the role of religion and Islam in today's crisis. Salt agrees that Islam has been taken over by conservatives and extremists, but precises that this is a political ideological take-over that has little to do with Islamic religious base.