In Praise of the Petty Bureaucrat

I came across these graphic photos of Syrian rebels gunning down a supporter of the Assad regime and the title of this post popped up in my mind. There is little praise for bureaucracy and even less for the officials who run it. Bureaucrats get in the way of action, strangle ideas with red tape and rules. But for me, they are an integral part of a well-run country.

There is no doubt that I, and most of the world, supports the Syrian rebels. However, the breakdown of bureaucracy in Syria worries me.

As a person who works on that esoteric topic, the ‘rule of law’, much of my work revolves around encouraging the government officials to check the box, to follow a set of rules. Of course, that is an extreme generalization, but I think, at the root, true.

I know very little about the facts of this case. Was the dead man guilty? Did he deserve it? What we know for sure is that he died on the street by a man with a gun. The man with the gun was the police, the judge and the executioner. By the last frame, the man in the black track jacket was dead.

The breakdown of bureaucracy is the greatest casualty of civil war. Once the power is in one’s hands, it is difficult to give it up. I did not live through Afghanistan’s civil war, but I have seen the after effects, especially on the judiciary.

The great challenge of the Syrian rebels will not only be the war they are fighting now, but to re-instate the so-called petty bureaucrat. The proper, if petty, bureaucrat will methodically run through her checklist of actions, meant to protect the rights of the accused and the victim. Those working with the bureaucrat will huff and puff and pressure the bureaucrat to take shortcuts, to deliver justice swiftly. Ideally, she will refuse and be protected. She will prevent injustice, even though it will not be glamorous and no one will notice.

May Syria, and all countries, soon have the return of their petty bureaucrats.




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