Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Note to My Daughter

The short time that we have as parents to shepperd you, our children, into adulthood, is a time of much anxiety. We nag, we cajole, we praise and we lose our temper in our attempts to keep you and your brother in the straight and narrow. But when do we know that we have succeeded? Conventional wisdom dictates that children grow slowly into mature adults. But you, my dear, have defied conventional wisdom as you demonstrated to us, without a doubt, that we have succeeded.

It was not exactly how we wished it to happen, but then again life is never predictable. We sat in the corner of the office, worried sick, and watched as you, despite unremitting pain, spoke to the doctor calmly and with a grace and poise that belies your age. It is not that you were unaware of the gravity of your condition, but you refused to whine or wallow in self pity in spite of the poking, the prodding and the painful procedures. You cannot image how proud we are of the way you handled yourself during this ordeal.

Now that you are on your way to recovery, could you please pass on some of that wisdom to your younger brother?

(Photo by AK: Mekong river at sunset, Laos 1975. Handmade print in sepia tone; no photoshop back in the stone age)

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Benevolent Hegemon is an Oxymoron

Francis Fukuyama, the author of The End of History and one of the influential Neocons in the Project for the New American Century think tank starting in 1997, has shed his neoconservatism . After urging George W. to attack Iraq even if no connection with September 11 was found, he is now vehemently against the war and the militarisation of American foreign policy. What he describes as the Bush administration's failures were predicted and predictable by most non-American analysts. That most conservative American analysts could not see this coming is a reflection of the insularity of their thinking and the arrogance of their power. Their self-righteousness rivaled the religious self-righteousness of the fanatics that they claim to be fighting.

A self-defeating hegemony: Four key mistakes made by the Bush administration have made anti-Americanism one of the chief fault lines of global politics.

Francis Fukuyama, Guardian, October 25, 2007

When I wrote about the End of History almost 20 years ago, one thing that I did not anticipate was the degree to which American behaviour and misjudgments would make anti-Americanism one of the chief fault lines of global politics. And yet, particularly since the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, that is precisely what has happened, owing to four key mistakes made by the Bush administration.First, the doctrine of "preemption", which was devised in response to the 2001 attacks, was inappropriately broadened to include Iraq and other so-called "rogue states" that threatened to develop weapons of mass destruction. To be sure, preemption is fully justified vis-a-vis stateless terrorists wielding such weapons. But it cannot be the core of a general non-proliferation policy, whereby the United States intervenes militarily everywhere to prevent the development of nuclear weapons.The cost of executing such a policy simply would be too high (several hundred billion dollars and tens of thousands of casualties in Iraq and still counting). This is why the Bush administration has shied away from military confrontations with North Korea and Iran, despite its veneration of Israel's air strike on Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981, which set back Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme by several years. After all, the very success of that attack meant that such limited intervention could never be repeated, because would-be proliferators learned to bury, hide, or duplicate their nascent weapons programmes.The second important miscalculation concerned the likely global reaction to America's exercise of its hegemonic power. Many people within the Bush administration believed that even without approval by the UN security council or Nato, American power would be legitimised by its successful use. This had been the pattern for many US initiatives during the cold war, and in the Balkans during the 1990s; back then, it was known as "leadership" rather than "unilateralism".But, by the time of the Iraq war, conditions had changed: the US had grown so powerful relative to the rest of the world that the lack of reciprocity became an intense source of irritation even to America's closest allies. The structural anti-Americanism arising from the global distribution of power was evident well before the Iraq war, in the opposition to American-led globalisation during the Clinton years. But it was exacerbated by the Bush administration's "in-your-face" disregard for a variety of international institutions as soon it came into office - a pattern that continued through the onset of the Iraq war.America's third mistake was to overestimate how effective conventional military power would be in dealing with the weak states and networked transnational organisations that characterise international politics, at least in the broader Middle East. It is worth pondering why a country with more military power than any other in human history, and that spends as much on its military as virtually the rest of the world combined, cannot bring security to a small country of 24 million people after more than three years of occupation. At least part of the problem is that it is dealing with complex social forces that are not organised into centralised hierarchies that can enforce rules, and thus be deterred, coerced, or otherwise manipulated through conventional power.Israel made a similar mistake in thinking that it could use its enormous margin of conventional military power to destroy Hizbullah in last summer's Lebanon war. Both Israel and the US are nostalgic for a 20th century world of nation-states, which is understandable, since that is the world to which the kind of conventional power they possess is best suited.But nostalgia has led both states to misinterpret the challenges they now face, whether by linking al-Qaida to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or Hizbullah to Iran and Syria. This linkage does exist in the case of Hizbullah, but the networked actors have their own social roots and are not simply pawns used by regional powers. This is why the exercise of conventional power has become frustrating.Finally, the Bush administration's use of power has lacked not only a compelling strategy or doctrine, but also simple competence. In Iraq alone, the administration misestimated the threat of WMD, failed to plan adequately for the occupation, and then proved unable to adjust quickly when things went wrong. To this day, it has dropped the ball on very straightforward operational issues in Iraq, such as funding democracy promotion efforts.Incompetence in implementation has strategic consequences. Many of the voices that called for, and then bungled, military intervention in Iraq are now calling for war with Iran. Why should the rest of the world think that conflict with a larger and more resolute enemy would be handled any more capably?But the fundamental problem remains the lopsided distribution of power in the international system. Any country in the same position as the US, even a democracy, would be tempted to exercise its hegemonic power with less and less restraint. America's founding fathers were motivated by a similar belief that unchecked power, even when democratically legitimated, could be dangerous, which is why they created a constitutional system of internally separated powers to limit the executive.Such a system does not exist on a global scale today, which may explain how America got into such trouble. A smoother international distribution of power, even in a global system that is less than fully democratic, would pose fewer temptations to abandon the prudent exercise of power.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Saturday, October 13, 2007

لماذا اكتب بألأنكليزية

Anas, from the blog An@s online raised the question a couple of days ago as to why some Syrian bloggers choose to write in English. It is a fair question, posed in a thoughtful way and without prejudgement. Here is my answer.

إلى أخي ألمواطن ألكريم أنس
I will try to answer your question as to why I blog in English rather than in Arabic. The reasons are not simple and straightforward and are my own personal reasons though I suspect that other Syrians who blog in English may share some of the same reasons.

I could tell you that I don't possess an Arabic keyboard and that I rely on a tedious, slow and impractical online Arabic keyboard for the few times that I do write in Arabic. That is all true but that would be a lame excuse for not posting in Arabic. The bottom line, the naked truth is that, unfortunately, my command of Arabic, my native language, is not good enough for me to effectively express my thoughts.

Why? It is a long story. It is the story of many expatriates like myself who left Syria (not by choice) early on and whose formative years were spent in a nomadic existence in and out of the Arab world. My early schooling was in Lebanon, where in most private schools, a command of the Arabic language was not emphasized. Subsequently all of my university education was in English.

So you see Anas, it is not that I chose not to write in Arabic, it is that I cannot do it effectively. I envy bloggers like yourself and other Syrian bloggers writing in Arabic who can write so effectively and eloquently in Arabic. One of the comments left on your post suggested that Syrians who write in English feel somehow superior to the common Syrian and though they may feel a longing for Syria it is a longing for the land but not its people. This cannot be farther from the truth and here I can speak on behalf of all the Syrian bloggers who post in English. One of the attributes of us Syrians as a people, if I may be allowed to make a sweeping generalization, is our simplicity. Simplicity not in the sense of simple mindedness but in the sense of tending to be humble and unpretentious. I have yet to see a post by a Syrian where other Syrians are slandered because of their social or economic status or their religious beliefs.

I understand your preference to read posts in Arabic, by thoughtful educated bloggers from within Syria. They certainly have a first hand view of the day to day issues that Syrians are dealing with and perhaps understand it better that I do. Where I disagree with you is your conclusion that somehow, because they write in Arabic, they are more steeped in and understanding of the culture and history of Syria.

But even if I could write effectively in Arabic, I would still write many posts in English. This is because I feel that in addition to exchanging thoughts with other Syrians, I want others to have access to our thoughts and ideas. I live divided among two cultures that are increasingly polarized by ignorance and the malicious spread of misinformation for political and strategic ends. I feel that is my duty, in whatever small way I can to try to bridge this chasm. My blog provides a window into which the curious can peer and learn about what I and other Syrians think and feel. Personal blogs, like few other ways of communication can humanize the "other". My American friends who read my blog have a much better understanding of not only who I am but have a better understanding of the broader issues that concern me and my Syrian compatriots.

You stated in your post that you rarely get past the first line of a post by a Syrian writing in English. I think that it is a pity. You are missing out on some very thoughtful and relevant posts. They will certainly broaden your perspective. We live in a rapidly changing and interconnected world, whether we like it or not. What happens anywhere in the world quickly ripples across the globe and Syria is certainly not immune to these effects. I am very interested in the thoughts of the blogs you prefer to frequent. But by the same token you ought to be curious about what other Syrians are writing, in whatever language they chose to communicate in.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Unblock Syrian Blogs!

Blogspot is now apparently completely blocked in Syria. I am republishing part of a post from last December in addition to other resources in the hope that some blocked Syrian bloggers may be able to use the information to bypass web censorship of their blogs- that is of course, if they manage to see this post.

Circumventing Web Censorship

There are several methods to evade censorship as outlined below including this recently released free software, Psiphon. The aim of this software as stated by its developers is as follows: psiphon is a human rights software project developed by the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies that allows citizens in uncensored countries to provide unfettered access to the Net through their home computers to friends and family members who live behind firewalls of states that censor.

Bypassing censorship through proxies (from Open Directory Project:

Digital Cyber Soft - List of anonymous proxies. - Has articles about anonymous web browsing, internet security, and internet privacy.
Free Public Proxy Servers List - Regularly updated HTTP open/public proxy list
My Proxy - HTTP Proxy lists updated daily.
NNTime - Regularly updated proxy list.
OpenProxies - Open, public HTTP proxies, updated daily.
Proxy Blind - Information about using proxy servers for privacy, with socks and proxy lists.
Proxy Server Info - Proxy server guide and a small list of anonymous proxies.
Proxy Servers - Proxy list, tutorials and other related stuff.
ProxyDex - A large list of web based proxies. - Checked list of proxy servers with IP and port, country, link to whois. List also available in plain text or as an XML file. - Proxy lists submitted by users are automatically tested, and results posted. - Automatically checked proxy lists, Proxy Extractor and related information.
ProxyLists.Net - Free HTTP and Socks proxy lists - Contains a list of web based proxies, as well as a forum to discuss related topics. - Checked lists of free anonymous proxies. - Proxy lists and RSS feed

Free web based anonymyzing proxies:

Anonymouse - Free anonymous surfing.
Cool Tunnel - Site implementing CGI Proxy. - Free and safe anonymous browsing. No limits on download size or file types.
PHProxy - Web proxy, requiring JavaScript.
Proxify - Free web proxy with optional removal of cookies, scripts, ads and referers. Requires cookies.
Radical Overthrow - CGI Proxy site with SSL support.
SlyUser - CGI Proxy site to bypass filters at home, work, or school.
Vtunnel - Web proxy supporting SSL via the HTTPS encryption protocol.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

In Praise of Parents

To Yazan

Our parents are our anchors in this world. Even as adults, we still need the reassurance of their presence; they are our connection to the past and to our childhood. They know and understand the most intimate details of our lives. When we are far away from home and feel nostalgic, it is not so much nostalgia for a particular place or time, but nostalgia for the comforting, reassuring embrace that our parents provided us with as children.

When I became a parent my understanding of my own parents changed instantaneously. I finally understood what is meant by unconditional love. Until then, I was the recipient of such love and basked in its warmth and security but also took it for granted. Understanding that unconditional love can be both nurturing and overbearing, all previous disagreements, or friction that we had over the years became trivial and unimportant. In the end, as much as we like to chart our own way in this world, we are the product of our parents' nurturing love with all its complexity and contradictions.

Becoming a parent also made me rethink my own mortality. My life became in many ways secondary to that of my children. I would not hesitate a second to sacrifice my own life to save that of my children. Yet at the same time, I don't want to leave this world before I am certain that they are set to fly on their own, to forge ahead and have a productive life.

Yazan, I only know you from your writings and the comments that we have exchanged. But if you are, as I believe you are, a reflection of your parents, then you ought to be very proud of them. I can also state unequivocally that if my children, as adults, exhibit the qualities that you have, I will be a proud parent, at peace with the knowledge that my children will be worthy and productive citizens of this world.

We all grieve with you at this tragic and untimely loss; but as you grieve, also remember and celebrate all they have given you.