Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hope Amid the Noxious Fumes

Physically exhausted and emotionally drained,
yet he musters the inner strength,
to make a statement for posterity.
In a strained voice, he recounts,
with clinical precision and rational analysis,
the carnage of that toxic night.
What his team did right; 
what they can do better.
His composure breaking at times:
fifty children dead on arrival.

Physically exhausted and emotionally drained,
but not defeated nor intimidated.
He is steadfast, he has plans, 
to educate his people, 
to better protect them
from the next plume of lethal gas, 
unleashed by a cruel despot,
whose savagery knows no bounds.

Physically exhausted and emotionally drained,
but with tenacity beyond his young age. 
 His resourcefulness and civic-mindedness,
 a testament to Syria's young,
who sparked the revolution 
and remain Syria's best hope 
for a future free of tyranny. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Syria and the Arab Left's Moral Dissonance

Suddenly, the voice of the Arab Left is alive again, enthusiastically supporting a popular uprising against a Middle East strongman.  They  are outraged, as they should be, by the clubbing, hosing and teargassing -it is toxic, you know- of peaceful demonstrators by a vindictive and brutal police force. They are outraged that the country's prime minister calls these peaceful demonstrators extremists, terrorists, foreign agitators and vows never to give in. To those who support the masses, struggle against injustice, the abuse of human rights and for freedom of expression, this was a no brainer.  It is as clear as night and day, there are no hidden phantasmagorical conspiracies at play here. There is no moral equipoise in what is happening in Turkey. Power to the people!

Too bad, the Syrian people -Arab brethren- did not fare as well on the left's moral compass, even though they had a much more compelling story to tell, a story that dates back over forty years.

Eight hundred days ago, Syrian teenagers in Daraa, exercising their freedom of expression, faced not teargas, clubs or water canons but a torturers pliers that pulled their nails out and beat them senseless.  Peaceful demonstrations that followed this outrage were met with bullets and those who sought medical help were dragged out of hospitals and abused.  Physicians who dared exercise their professional duties and help the injured were jailed or killed.  Peaceful activists were jailed by the thousands, many enduring humiliation, torture and death, a practice that continues to this day. Areas of the country that dared resist violence with violence were treated brutally and indiscriminately.  Entire villages, small towns and entire city neighborhoods were systematically flattened. The country is in ruins; tens of thousands have lost their lives and hundreds of thousands have been injured and a quarter of the population is displaced.

Eight hundred days on, many on the Left remain unmoved by the plight of the Syrian people.  The Syrian revolution disturbed their fixed East-West, Arab-Israeli conflict narrative.  To cope with that dissonance, they either chose to completely ignore it or explained it away with improbable conspiracy theories. They chose not only to ignore the current injustices perpetrated on the Syrian people but also a  forty year history of well documented, indisputable brutal oppression and abuse by the same regime.   Either way, they shirked their moral responsibilities and empowered a brutal tyrannical regime. There is little question in mind that the stance of many in the Arab Left on Syria is partially responsible for the regimes prolonged survival and consequently the death of many Syrians.  

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Ordinary Lives Disrupted by War

Here is a compelling series of photographs by Brian Sokol for UNHCR published in Aljazeera. Images from Syria are more often than not, dominated by distressing images of violence, suffering, devastation and squalor. Such images assault the senses, create anger and outrage, and yet their subjects remain strangely impersonal and anonymous.  The present photographs,  on the other hand, simple and understated, are intensely personal.  The photographer by hiding background with a simple sheet forces you to look into the eyes of each of his subjects. In each a Syrian refugee shows the most important thing they took with them when fleeing from their homes. Each story told by these ordinary, dignified people is a heartbreaking revelation of a  life disrupted by conflict. These images will stay with you; now imagine these and similar stories repeated a million times. Such is the scale of the tragedy befalling the people of Syria.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Translation: Moaz Al Khatib's Press Conference 2/28/2013

Moaz Al Khatib represents me. The more I listen to him to more I like the man. He has the right mix of passion, compassion, moral indignation and the ability to stand his ground. Unlike most politicians, you know that he believes every word he says.

“I would like to thank the Italian government, the foreign minister, Mr. Kerry and the other foreign ministers who joined us in this meeting to discuss the pain and suffering of the Syrian people at the hands of the mafia that is ruling it. First I want to say that we are now talking two years after the slaughter of our steadfast people started and the destruction of the country’s infrastructure in a frightening manner. The Syrian revolution is a peaceful revolution and I reiterate that it is the regime alone that has forced the people to take up arms to defend themselves.  The proof of that fact is the savagery perpetrated by the regime today. There is no regime in the world that has bombed its people with fighter jets and Scud missiles. The diameter of the crater caused by the scud missile that landed in Raqqa two days ago was 115 meters.  It is hard for human beings to see the even see these images, so how must it be for the people living under this bombardment when their children, their infants and their women are killed?  There is an important point that the regime tries to exploit by talking about the presence of terrorism.  I told the foreign ministers that there are three questions that we Syrians have gotten fed up with, and I myself, as an official, have gotten fed up with.  The first is the talk about terrorism. None of the terrorists around the world have demonstrated the type of savagery that the Syrian regime demonstrated. The subject of chemical weapons; what the regime has achieved as far as destruction and the use of all forms of weapons in its possession has had a more devastating effect than all the chemical weapons. The third is the subject of the minorities. For a long time and to this day, the regime pretends to be the protector of the minorities. I have one thing to tell you.  Go to Lebanon and see what the Syrian occupation did to the leaders of every religious sect there; I have no other response to this subject.  There is also the issue regarding the rebel fighters.  Many, especially in the media seem more concerned about the length of the beards of the fighters than the volume of blood that flows from the children. A month ago, the regime planes bombed 86 bakeries, kneading the flesh of children into the bread. Please pay attention to that fact before you obsess over the length of fighters’ beards.  The vast majority of our brothers fighting on the inside are peaceful individuals who were forced to take up arms. We do not deny that there some people who have their own strange ideas that are foreign to our society.  We reject such ideas with frankness and we have said before and repeat again, we are against any takfiri ideologies and against those who want to impose their way of thinking by force.  We are against all those who want to destroy the social fabric of Syria. The person who best personifies the ideals of the revolution is the martyr, Colonel Abu Furat, one of the heroes of Aleppo. This man said, "it saddens me whenever a human being from the other side is killed because this man has a family and children and he is, after all, a human being. We are after all human beings not monsters.  I am also sad whenever I destroy a tank but I have to defend the people standing behind be against a savage, destructive military machine." Abu Furat was killed minutes later by a sniper.  This is the spirit of our fighters in Syria. I want to also say that we are not shy to say that we are Muslim fighters. The Islam that we know is an Islam that is inclusive, that respects everyone, that lives side by side with everyone, that wishes good for all and that says to all of humanity that we are all from Adam and that Adam was made from clay. We are born into this life to help each other and not to devour each other. Now, there are several topics that we discussed with the ministers and we frankly asked for several things.  The first is to force the regime to create safe corridors for humanitarian assistance especially for the city of Homs which is under siege for the past 250 days.  Also for the city of Daraya, the cradle of the peaceful revolution, the home of the martyr Gyath Matar who carried in his hands flowers and cold water to offer to the members of the security forces until he was arrested and died in custody, under torture. His throat, with which he called for freedom, freedom, was sent to his family in a plastic bag.  Daraya has been surrounded and bombarded savagely for the last 100 days.  We demand the establishments of safe passages to protect civilians. Second, we consider the unity of Syria, a red line with all the associated international guarantees, to counter rumors, true or false, about attempts to divide up Syria. We will not accept this and all Syrian citizens will fight any such attempts. The call for negotiations is one of the subjects that the Syrian coalition has agreed upon during its last meeting that includes frankly, the departure of the regime and the dismantling of the oppressive security apparatus that rules the country. And here I say from this forum, and probably for the last time, “O Bashar, can you for once behave like a human being. The people have had enough killing, enough massacres, enough arbitrary arrests and torture that have not even spared the children. Make one wise decision in your life for the sake of the future of this country.” Fourth, give the Syrian people and the revolutionaries the full right to defend themselves.  There is one other topic that I want to discuss with all frankness, there are decisions or indications from the international community against arming the opposition fighters for various reasons.  I say, if this is what you want, then work to stop the ongoing flow of weapons that the regime continues to get under the pretext that they are old contracts. Fifth, we ask all friendly countries to facilitate the residency paperwork for Syrians.  We have noticed some countries have started to clamp down on Syrians who show sympathy for the revolution and some have been arrested.  We ask for such actions to stop.  We also ask for help with Syrian students abroad in the form of scholarships and to make hospital beds available for Syrians in need of urgent medical care. Finally, we ask for support for the neighboring countries because of the significant pressure that are under because of the Syrian crisis. I would finally like to say that the international community can no longer tolerate the criminality that is happening in Syria.  Syrians are now in an unprecedented crisis. I close by saying that our great Syrian cities, the mother of history, are being destroyed.  Throwing a stone at Syria is akin to throwing a stone at ones own mother. Syria is the mother of all as from within it all civilizations have arisen. I thank you all.”

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Parsing Bashar Assad's Speech

Once again, Bashar's speech, at a time when his policies have taken Syria to the brink of collapse, is completely devoid of realistic solutions to the present crisis.  He rehashed old pseudo-reform ideas that were unacceptable at a time when the revolution was peaceful and are patently unrealistic at this juncture. Not even the clever visuals, likely the work of a well paid Western PR firm, could overcome the alarming lack of substance in his speech. Moving the speech to the larger opera house instead of the cramped parliament allowed for for the presence of a larger number of his supporters; however, at this point their cult-like devotion of the eternal leader only makes him seem more pathetic.  Moreover, the backdrop of his speech, an oversized Syrian flag made up of pictures of the dead, was  cynical and offensive for all who have lost family members in the last 22 months. What is new in the speech is the indirect admission, despite the bluster, that he is quickly losing ground.  Here following specific quotes from his speech as published in the Daily Star followed by my comments

"Today we meet and suffering permeates Syrian land and there is no place for joy in any corner of the country while security and safety are absent from its streets and alleyways."  A clear admission that he is loosing ground and that the revolution has reached every corner of the country. 

"We meet today and there are mothers who have lost their finest children and families who have lost their providers, children who have been orphaned and brothers divided among the martyrs, the refugees, and the missing."  An enraging cynical twisting of the reality on the ground.  It is troops under his command as president that have caused the vast majority of the casualties and physical destruction not to mention the hundreds of videos that "allegedly" show the abuse suffered by common citizens at the hands of the regime's various security forces.

"Syria will only exit this calamity by converting this energy into a total national mobilisation to save the country from the clutches of a crisis which has no precedent in this region." Translation: I have lost control of most of the country and need your help.

"Terrorists holding the views of al Qaeda who call themselves jihadists are the ones running the terrorist operations here and we are fighting them. It is not impossible to destroy them if we have the courage." The old canard trotted out again but still seems to be effective in keeping the West and the rest of the world guessing as to what should be done as the country and its people are systematically destroyed. Here again, the wording: "not impossible to destroy" projects a sense of weakness and impotence.

"Whoever talks solely of a political solution only is turning a blind eye to the facts and he is either ignorant or has been fooled into selling his people and the blood of martyrs for free and we will not allow this." Translation: a political solution on my terms and I reserve the option to continue the military option.  In fact, this statements renders all subsequent statements about dialogue and reform null and void. 

"We will have dialogue with all those who opposed us politically and all who have rejected our positions as long as their positions were not based on trying to destroy our principles and national foundations." A non sequitur: the "principles and national foundations" he is talking about are the ones of the Baath party as interpreted by the rergime and which all his political opponents reject; hence he has no one to dialogue with.

"We will have dialogue with all parties and individuals that did not sell our country to the foreigner." Never mind that the regime has sold the country to the Iranians and the Russians.

 "The political solution will be along the following lines." He goes on to describe a three stage solution for stopping the armed conflict, having a national dialogue, establishing and a new constitution and government. The problem is that this plan is to be implemented by the present discredited government, with their own preconditions and with their own definitions.  This is a non-starter and completely unrealistic.   

In effect the president's plan is a delusional farce and except for the brain-washed devotees at the opera hall, most Syrians will come to the depressing realization that Bashar, even at the height of this crisis, is incapable of  any grand gestures that will help spare the country and its citizens from further death and destruction.  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Political Solution IS Better than Hell

I sympathize with a traumatized and cynical Syrian public's dismissal of Lakdhar Brahimi's initiative as too little, too late.  If more killing and more physical and psychological destruction of the country can be avoided by a political solution, however, I am all for it. One argument is that since the opposition is gaining the upper hand, at least militarily, then it is not time to stop until this murderous regime is completely dismantled.  That scenario presupposes that the regime is capable of realizing when it is defeated and when to throw in the towel. The last twenty one months have shown that this delusional, insular regime is incapable of such a rational decision; they will still be sending their MIGs on bombing missions when the rebel forces are gates of the presidential palace.

It is precisely because the rebels have the upper hand militarily that the opposition should opt for a political solution.  They will have the upper hand and can set the conditions of the transition especially now that the regime's staunchest backers, the Russian government, has essentially abandoned them. Actually, a political solution is a misnomer as it suggests some kind of negotiated compromise. It should more accurately be called a political transition; the only negotiations are on the terms of surrunder. It should be a forgone conclusion that there will be no room for Bashar or his inner circle in the transition but it will be vital to keep technocrats and middle and low level governments officials in place to maintain a functioning governmental structure.  The mukhabarat should be dismantled completely and the Syrian Army leadership should be restructured carefully.  Even the most thoughtful political transition, however, will be difficult and fraught with danger and yet the alternative of letting this drag on to a military victory will mean that the Syrian state will have to be built from scratch. Starting with a clean slate may have its attractions given the ingrained corruption fostered by two generations of Baathist rule but it is too simplistic a notion when dealing with a complex nation that has undergone the most profound period of strife since its independence. The lingering scars of war, displacement, economic hardship, the prospects of sectarian strife and breakdown of a structured governance system means that the situation will be nothing like a clean slate.

Bashar can opt for an ignominious end in some drainage ditch on the outskirts of Damascus or he can save his skin and be whisked off to some distant land. If the latter saves the Syrian people from the hell they are presently going through, then I am for it, provided he leaves without the people's money and that he and his cronies remain within reach of the international criminal court. In the end though, just as decision to militarize peaceful protests was in the hands the Syrian regime so too is the decision to stop it in favor of a political solution.  It is remains to be seen if the regime has broken out of its delusional bubble and now "gets it". If not then it is up to Bashar's allies, Russia and Iran, for their own political priorities to burst the delusional bubble that they helped create.