Monday, May 23, 2011

Daydreams and Nightmares

House Call: My yearly visit to one of my homebound patients.
Patient: Are you taking a vacation this summer?
Me: Yes
Patient: Where are you going?
Me: To Lebanon
Patient: Is that where you are from?
Me: My wife is from there, I am Syrian.
Home attendant:  Where is that?
Me: In the Middle East (in my head: Aakh! If I had a penny for every time I heard that question I would be a millionaire!)
Patient: I would love to go there, but they hate Americans don’t they?
Me: No they don’t…So how is your back pain? 

Driving back to the hospital I listen to Lina Chamamyan Ala moj el bahr. I am transported for a moment by her beautiful voice until ugly Youtube images from Lattakia, Banyas, Bayda and elsewhere rudely intrude into my daydream. My throat tightens, I reach down for the off button then hesitate.  Screw them, the bastards will not spoil my daydream.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Moral Dissonance of the Syrian Regime Apologists

The Syrian regime is claiming victory in its battle with its own people or rather, as they would say, the battle against the insurrection by armed terrorist gangs.  I hope they are wrong but I frankly don't know.  They have managed to choke off almost completely the trickle of images escaping from Syria, arrested thousand of activists and continued their brutal crackdown.  Does that mean that the protests have diminished and will stop?  I doubt it.

If the fragmentary information over the past eight weeks has left many in doubt about the course of the events,  there are certain things I have become certain of. The regime's ruling elite is brutal, incorrigible and  unreformable and willing to take the country down with it rather than surrender or share power. I always thought that some opponents of the regime engaged in hyperbole when describing the regime as a mafia. But how else can you describe a regime led by a leader who inherited the presidency and that is rife with nepotism. Brother Maher controls the most powerful division in the army, a cousin is the wealthiest monopolist businessman in Syria and various lesser Assads control a freelance militia, the so-called Shabiha, used to kill and intimidate unruly citizens.  In fact , the Corleones' behavior pales compared to the Assads.

The last eight weeks have also acutely heightened my distaste for those, who despite everything that has transpired, continue to provide cover for the president and his regime.  After several hundred unarmed protesters are killed, many more injured and thousands of activists and ordinary citizens incarcerated and tortured, there is no room for moral hand-wringing.  The regime has clearly shown  what it is capable and willing to do to its own people.  If the protests are suppressed, the apologists will say that it is because the president has many more supporters than detractors among the Syrian citizens, as if the blood of those who died was worth spilling if the protests represented only 20% of the Syrian people.

Surely the same regime apologists will think my moral arguments naive.  They will tell me that I don't understand the complex nature of the Machiavellian politics of the Middle East and how events are interconnected by nefarious conspiracies.  I am happy to be the naive one along with all the common people whose Arab Spring has debunked all the stupid assumptions and political theories. It turns out -surprise, surprise- Arabs are like everyone else and long first and foremost for dignity, respect and freedom.  Until individuals in our part of the world are given those basic rights they will continue to be expandable pawns in power games played by a few and we will never be able to build stable, progressive societies that achieve the potential of their people.

The Syrian regime might temporarily put out the fires but the embers of dissent will continue to burn.

Monday, May 02, 2011

How Many Syrian Demonstrators are Enough?

Since the beginning of the demonstrations in Syria, some, mostly regime sympathizers or apologists, have obsessed over the numbers of demonstrators. They were too few to make a difference, they said, a handful of disgruntled extremists from the countryside; everyone else loved the president. When the numbers went from dozens, to hundreds, to thousands and then to tens of thousands, these number crunchers then switched to estimating the number of protesters relative to the total population again trying to minimize their relevance.

This is a silly exercise at many levels.  First, no one knows what the numbers are since the government-run media is a propaganda puppet of the regime that spews bold-faced lies and no independent journalists are allowed into Syria. Second, in a country that has been in a state of lockdown since 1963, a dozen people publicly  demonstrating against the regime would have been front page news only  two months ago.  So, if some of the citizens have boldly tossed the yoke of fear off their necks, it is a safe bet that many are still too afraid to express their real views. This fear is reinforced by the regime and its security forces' -uniformed or not- penchant for shooting unarmed demonstrators and otherwise trying to extinguish any nascent demonstration with threats of violence, intimidation and arrests. Witnesses also describe how security forces surround mosques at prayer time letting people leave one a time to prevent the gathering of a crowd; this after the president declared that Syrians have the right to demonstrate peacefully.

In the end, however, the question as to whether the regime needs to change has nothing to do with the number of demonstrators but has all to do with the response of the regime to the demonstrations; and by that measure they have lost all legitimacy. Several hundred, unarmed, demonstrators have lost their lives; few would dispute that their deaths was at the hands of the security forces or the shabiha. That fact without any attempt on the part of the government to take responsibility for its act is reason enough for a change. No Syrian, myself included, wants to see the country descend into chaos.  That the options are down to the status quo or chaos is the choice of the regime not the demonstrators.  The power structure, built specifically to cement the power of a few, is rigid  with no room for  flexibility to adapt to change despite  having a self-declared reformer at the helm for a decade.  The emergency laws have been lifted in name only as hundreds of arbitrary arrest continue unabated.  Is there any shred of evidence that this regime is willing or capable of evolving, of reforming itself into something other than the repressive police state it has been for last 48 years?