Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Word to Syrians Who Refuse to Take a Stand

Came across this fitting poem for those Syrians who are sitting, silent on the sidelines:

Whoever keeps you and me
from being we,
let his house cave in.
If I don't become we, I'm alone.
If you don't become we,
you are just you.
Why not make The East
arise again?
Why not force open
the hands of the vile?
If I rise,
if you arise,
everyone will be roused.
If I sit,
if you take a seat,
who will take a stand?

Who will fight the foe,
grapple the foul enemy hand to hand

From: Blue, Grey, Black (1969) by the Iranian poet Hamid Mosadegh

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ali Ferzat's Pen is Mightier than Bashar's Sword

It was like a bad flashback.  In the 1980s Selim Al-Lawzy, editor of Al Hawadeth, a weekly critical of the Assad (senior) regime was found murdered and thrown on the roadside on the outskirts of Beirut.  One remarkable detail stuck with me to this day.  Both his hands were severely mutilated before he was killed.  That detail stuck with me because of what it says of the viciousness of the people who committed the crime.  It was not enough to kill the man, the tools of his trade, his mode of free expression, his hands had to be destroyed first.  The message was clear to all those who would dare speak ill of the despot; even he knows that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Today, Ali Ferzat, the brilliant Syrian political cartoonist, was abducted by masked men in Damascus, savagely beaten and left at a roadside with both hands broken. Why? Because he dared express himself freely and speak his conscious openly and courageously; a recent cartoon apparently compared Bashar to Ghaddafi.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Latakia Under Fire

Latakia is not the first Syrian city to suffer the wrath of a regime spiraling out of control and it will not be the last, but with Latakia, the city of my birth, it has become personal.

I recognized the vantage point from which the shaky YouTube video of the al Ramel district in Latakia was captured.  It was from Tabiat, the hilly neighborhood on the Southern tip of the Latakia peninsula looking East.  As children, we frequently visited a family friend who lived near the very top of Tabiat.  I remember the view of the Palestinian refugee camp, then a hamlet at the outskirts of the city just off a sandy coast,  now engulfed by urban sprawl.  Little did I know that one day, the Syrian regime that fancies itself champion of the Palestinian cause, of steadfastness and resistance against Israeli hegemony, would send its army  (حمات الديار: defenders of the homeland) to fire, indiscriminately, salvos of heavy machine gun fire into an area teeming with Palestinian refugees and impoverished Syrians.  Many who have escaped the fire are now herded like cattle in the city stadium, built by Assad father, to host, with great fanfare, the 1987 Mediterranean games. The only sport now practiced in that stadium is gratuitous violence and humiliation of innocent civilians, a sport for which the regime's thugs deserve the title of world champions. Of course other neighborhoods in Latakia suffered a similar fate including Slaibeh where I was born and where my aunt and cousins still live in building, sandwiched between a  church and mosque. We have yet to hear any news from them.

One gets the distinct sense that this a regime in free fall. There are few if any public appearances or statements by high level government officials.  They don't answer the phone when world figures call, they alienate the few allies they have and make no coherent statements about what the plan for the country is. Their absence cannot inspire confidence.   In fact the only part of this regime that exudes confidence are members of the security forces who, after more than five months, have not lost any of their swagger, their viciousness or their brutality.  It is, in fact, the only thing that this regime knows how to do well; after forty one years of the Assad dynasty, this is the only skill they have truly mastered.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Beirut Demonstrations in Support of the Syrian People

It is nice to see the large turnout in Beirut in support of the Syrian people.  I cannot vouch for the motives of all who were present but I think most had their heart in the right place. Perhaps most prominent was the presence of the musician and singer Marcel Khalife, who is popular across the Middle East.  His principled and reasoned stance in support of the Syrian people defied the idiotic thinking that you cannot both support the Palestinian people and resistance against Israel and at the same time condemn the criminality of the Syrian regime.

This Lebanese show of support is payback of sorts for the generosity of the Syrian people who sheltered displaced Lebanese families during the war of 2006.  Despite the disdain with which some Lebanese view Syrians, it is an undeniable fact of history and geography that the two people are inextricably linked.  Both people need each other's support.  To me the support of the demonstrators in Beirut means much more than the hypocritical support of the Saudi monarch and the government of Bahrain who somehow overlooked their own complicit criminality several months in crushing the peaceful protests in Bahrain.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Syrian Revolt Five Months On: Decrees, Deception and Death

There is perversity in Bashar Al Assad's pronouncements that borders on the obscene.  After starting, on the eve of Ramadan,  the bloodiest crackdown in the five months of the Syrian uprising, he has the gall to pass a decree, like a benevolent father bestowing a favor on to his children, allowing the creation of political parties.  All the while the state's security apparatus, when they are not bombing a town into submission to rid it of "armed gangs", tracks down, imprisons and tortures anyone who so much as thinks of dissent. The hand of the regime even extends outside Syria with their goons belting peaceful protesters outside of the Syrian embassy in Beirut.

Yet despite the fact that the regime's actions defy all logic and reason, many, in and out of Syria continue to drink the Kool-Aid dished out by the regime as I noticed on a recent trip to Lebanon.  There, the defenders of the Assad regime make for some strange bedfellows.  A not insignificant number of Christian Lebanese, the same people who cheered the loudest when the Syrian army left Lebanon in 2005,  have bought into Bashar's narrative as the defender of minorities.  There is of course the Hezbollah supporters, the party of the poor and disenfranchised, that celebrated the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen but demurred when it came to the Syrian revolt.  Suddenly, the revolt of the Arab people is a Saudi-American-Israeli plot.  Even my own brother seems to have sipped the regime's Kool-Aid.  The truth about what is going in Syria is somewhere in the middle, he told me as I raged at the brutality of the regime.  This from a man whose father -our father- was one of the early victims of the emergency laws having been thrown in Mezze prison for three months in 1963.  My brother's contorted reasoning is that Assad is the defender of the "resistance" against Israel and that the Syrian revolt is manufactured by outsiders.  Somehow, this reasoning makes it acceptable for Assad to kill, maim, imprison and torture thousands of his citizens for the simple act of expressing their opinion. 

The other prop trotted out by the regime supporters is the elusive "armed gangs" of terrorists and salafists, an obsession of several of Josh Landis' posts.  After nearly five months of government brutality, it is not surprising that some the citizenry have retaliated in kind; what is surprising actually is the amount of restraint shown by most citizens. I have yet to see evidence of an organized armed resistance let alone salafist terrorists who are typically not shy in boasting about their exploits.  Having said that, if the regime keeps up the violence, their wish will come true.  Armed resistance will emerge in various forms including the salafist whose appetite for violence will match that of the regime and then some. 

The outlook for Syria is gloomy.  Assad shows no signs of wanting to negotiate a settlement and with Syria having no independent civic institutions, a transition similar to that in Tunisia or Egypt is not possible.  Moreover, direct outside intervention will not happen and will anyway be counter productive. The present impasse will continue with a ratcheting up of the violence on the part of security leading inevitably to increasingly violent push back from those on the receiving end.

If this vicious cycle continues to snow ball,  Syria  will degenerate into an Iraqi style civil war.  I this happens, let there be no doubt that the regime bears full responsibility.  Bashar could have chosen the high road back in March and he would have been celebrated as hero in all corners of Syria.  Instead he has chosen the path laid down by his father in 1982.