Monday, February 20, 2006

SyriaPol: Gazing into the Crystal Ball

I participated in the SyriaPol devised by George Ajjan today. It gives 16 different scenarios of what Syria's future might look like and asks Syrians to rank each according to how they feel about that particular future from ideal all the way to totally unacceptable. I am glad this poll is taking place but it is anybody's guess as to how representative the results will be. Internet access from within Syria is tightly controlled and those who do have access are likely to abstain. Completing the poll, I must say, was a discouraging and sobering experience. Only one scenario of the 16 proved marginally acceptable to me. Now I am assuming that the different scenarios given are based on extensive research, but in the end how things will materialize. Most of the scenarios included either a Sectarian government (a la Libanaise) or an Islamic government; neither works for me. The former has been tried and failed miserably next door. As for the latter, show me an enlightened Islamic state before I will start considering the possibility. I accept and respect the fact that Muslim values will be represented in the government of a country where conservative Muslims are in the majority so long as it is not at the expense of the rights of minorities and individual rights. The Syrian Muslim brotherhood, despite its demonization by the Assad government, has, at least on paper, accepted this formulation in agreements with secular opposition groups.

The last question on the survey asked, almost like an afterthought, was whether sustained violence is to be expected if the regime collapses suddenly. Who the hell knows? I don't. Trying to read the tea leaves in a country run by a government more opaque and secretive than the Bush administration is not easy. I don't think any of pundits know for sure; if they do, no one is saying. Syrian government papers predictably every few weeks report a battle with "terrorists" inside Syria. Whether these "terrorists" are real threats or props for the Syrian government's internal (see what awaits you if we fall) and external (we are your partners in the war on terror) propaganda is hard to say.

I am eager to see what the results of the poll show. Frankly though, I think a bassara looking into your coffee cup may do as well as George's poll.

(Photo by AK: Merced River, Yosemite National Park)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"Tel Pere, Tel Fils"

Like father, like son: My post yesterday was mostly tongue-in-cheek but deep down, there was a glimmer of hope tha Bashar was different. That glimmer was instantly extinguished today with the Syrian mukhabarat re-arresting Mamoun el-Homsi, a human rights activist and member of the Damascus Spring recently released from prison. What the hell is going on? Talk about sending mixed messages! How many chances do we give Bashar to get it right before concluding, like many have long since concluded, the he is no different and that this regime is incorrigible and beyond reform?

(Photo AK: Nile river at Luxor)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dear Mr. President

I am writing in the hope that, as an online letter, it will reach you directly without the filter of the yes-men and self-serving sycophants that surround you and taint your view of the world. This letter via internet also celebrates your appointment of Amr Salem as minister -a good move- hoping that his appointment will bring greater openness and access to information to the Syrian people.

Dr. Bashar, these are trying times for you and the Syrian people. Despite all the blame and accusations aimed your way, I feel that -sometimes- you are trying to do the right thing. Some will say that I am naive. Perhaps it is the kinship I feel for a fellow physician as our conduct is guided by a professional oath that we both took. So in this spirit allow me to review some of the principle tenets of the Hippocratic Oath as a guide for these difficult times:

I will follow that treatment which according to my ability and judgment I consider for the benefit of my patients (People), and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. The current regime is like a cancer upon the Syrian people. Like all cancers it sequesters blood and nutrients for its own growth leaving the patient (people) weak and cachectic. Distracting the people (ex. Cartoons) from this state of affairs is akin to giving analgesics to a patient dying of cancer. Besides distraction provides only temporary relief. February 14th is upon us and the Lebanese -for good reason- are once again cursing you and by extension, all of us. If the tumor is not excised, Dr. Bashar, both the patient and the tumor will succumb. Drastic surgery is needed, and time is running short. You can start by ridding yourself of Rustom Ghazaleh, no one will shed a tear for this thug.

In the presence of epidemics or other danger I will not allow fear of personal harm to turn me from my duty. It is true that in this time of danger, you have stood your ground, but I am not sure what you have stood FOR. The way forward is clear. Come clean on the Hariri affair and punish those responsible then you can move forward with your promised reforms.

Into whatever house I enter, it shall be for the benefit of the sick to the utmost of my power, holding myself aloof from any act of corruption. This is where, as president, you have to break from the Hippocratic Oath. You cannot hold yourself aloof from any act of corruption especially when it is practiced by the very people you depend on to execute your authority. If you do, you become complicit in these acts of corruption. Khaddam did not suddenly become corrupt when he moved to Paris, you have held yourself aloof his and many others' acts of corruption. The result is a kleptocracy with an impoverished and disenfranchised people.

So Dr. Bashar, you have to do right thing. The Syrian people, you seem to suggest, have to choose between the status quo of a sclerosed and corrupt system and chaos. These are not real choices as the status quo is unsustainable and will lead to chaos. The Syrian people are ready for positive change, big, bold changes, not timid cosmetic changes. Do it not because George W and Condaleeza are turning up the heat on you, but because it is the right thing to do. Do it now and take ownership of your decisions and you will gain the respect and admiration of your own people. Do it piecemeal and grudgingly and it looks like capitulation to the self-serving policies of the American administration. The defiant public posturing does no fool anybody. Waiting in the wings are Syrian dissidents, courageous men who have dared to speak truth to power regardless of the consequences. Most of these honorable men and loyal citizens, despite their mistreatment, have expressed a willingness to transform from within rather than destroy and rebuild. Take them up on their offer before it is too late.

(Photo by AK: Nile at Luxor)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Of Cartoons and Looney Toons

Let me add my voice to the chorus of disgusted Syrian bloggers at the recent inexcusable behavior of our compatriots.

I don't, for second, believe that the riots in Damascus were spontaneous. You all know that nothing of the sort is allowed to happen in Syria without the complicity of the security services. I guess it is Bashar's way of letting off some steam at someone else's expense-its an old, time-honored Baathist trick.

Be that as it may, I am still appalled by the behavior of many of my co-religionists in their response to this affair. Yes, the cartoons of the Prophet were disrespectful, offensive and hateful. And yes, there is a double standard in the West. An equally offensive cartoon directed against Jews or other ethnic or religious minorities would have elicited howls of protest. However, it is just a CARTOON by a bigoted cartoonist published in a newspaper, in tiny Denmark, that is incapable of distinguishing between free speech and hateful speech. These cartoons will not affect the life of Muslims in Damascus, Tehran or Kabul. Muslim in these cities have other more pressing social, political and economic problems that they need to deal with; homegrown problems. No one will lose life or limb or property because of what the cartoons depict. This is a local Danish problem; it is the Muslims in Denmark who need to fight, with the power of the pen, to dispel the stereotypes and show the newspaper the error of it ways. These cartoons do not deserve this worldwide attention and misdirected outrage. They certainly do not deserve the violence we have seen in the last several days.

These events belie a continuing and alarming downward spiral of worsening East-West polarization fed a by a steady diet of propaganda from the two extremes (the Looney Toon fringe). I will address the Looney Toon fringe of the West some other time; my venom tonight, in the light of the recent events, is reserved for our own fanatics:

These are the people who exploit the masses by casting all Muslims as victims... Who can make grandiose plans for wreaking havoc and destruction all over the world but have not a single constructive plan to improve the lives of other Muslims... Who have no qualms about killing other Muslims if they get in their way... Who declare you a Kafir when it suits them... Who want to impose their view of Islam on everyone... and turn all Muslims into identical, unthinking, automatons...Who want to take us back a thousand years yet forget that Muslims were successful then because they were tolerant and enlightened...Who desecrate with their actions and words everything that is noble and pure about Islam.

These are the people who make me angry and make me ashamed.

(Photo by AK: Arenal volcano, Costa Rica)